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Guest Commentary

‘Safety’ trumps sanity in Ames-East fiasco

10/29/2014

By now, just about everyone agrees that the Ames-Des Moines East high school football game should have been played Oct. 17 and not cancelled by Ames and the Iowa High School Athletic Association because some jerk was said to have threatened to maybe harm those who attended the game. The threat was deemed ill-founded or baseless by the Des Moines Police Department.

Instead of awarding game balls — as is the custom for good plays — perhaps “fumbles” should be handed out to the Ames folks and the IHSAA; East itself might get something in the way of an “offsides” penalty for not salvaging something worthwhile out of the fumbles.

Tim Taylor, the Ames Community School District superintendent, essentially called off the game. He announced that “safety trumps” lesser concerns, like making informed and intelligent decisions. The “safety trumps” card was played just the way school boards justify any decision by saying “It’s for the children” — a handy mantra used to excuse any questionable decision.

Well, the rejoinder might be “should we have put Ames people at risk by having them traveling to East and playing the game? How would you like to have blood on your hands?”

“Safety trumps.” You can hear the mantra from people hiding under their desks.

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Look, if you can’t make decisions that might hurt people, then quit the school board or resign as superintendent. School boards and superintendents make decisions all the time that will affect, and possibly hurt, children in far more tangible ways than the contrived fears that led to cancelling the football game. School boards and superintendents cut fine arts programs, change curriculum under community pressures and do endless other things that may deprive children of opportunities to learn and serve. School boards and superintendents, by dint of their responsibilities, have to make tough decisions — decisions far more important and more devastating than playing or not playing a football game.

To compound the folly, Ames suggested that East could come up to their town and play the game. What a great idea! Obviously, it would never occur to the phantom bomb thrower or well-armed sniper that he could wreak just as much damage in Ames as at Williams Field in Des Moines.

For its part, East knuckled under, too, giving students a free pass not to attend school on the Friday in question. Happily, most students and the families showed more sense than the school officials by going to school that day. Give them the game ball!

Given how fear-driven our society is today, it’s a wonder that someone did not argue that calling off the game would lessen the risk of transmitting Ebola.

East might have salvaged something out of the mess by going ahead with its side of the game anyway, and having a school/community festival that would celebrate what was to be Seniors Night at the game. The band could have played, the team could have suited up and the families, students and supporters could have spent the night recognizing senior players, cheerleaders and all. It could have been celebrated as “Fight the Fear” night. Shane Goodman, publisher of Cityview, suggested that approach, noting it would be quite a media event and a way for sanity to survive and for people to thumb their nose at whoever the jerk was that may have made the threats in the first place.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

strentz21And there likely will be a next time, thanks to the invitation to disruption issued by the Ames folks and endorsed by the IHSAA. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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