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Gov. Reynolds sends letter to Drake saying track capacity restriction ‘defies all logic’

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 3:28 PM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter to officials at the school hosting the state high school track and field championships, admonishing them to reconsider spectator capacity limits imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The letter said that Drake University’s plan to limit attendance at the outdoor track and field finals to 33% capacity “defies all logic and common sense of what we know—and have learned—about COVID-19. It was sent to Brian Hardin, Drake University’s Director of Athletics, along with the school’s president Marty Martin, the executive directors of the boy’s and girl’s high school athletics organizations in Iowa, and the Polk County Public Health Department.

“I understand it is your decision whether to impose arbitrary capacity limits,” Reynolds wrote in the letter. “But if you do, somewhere in Iowa, a mother will learn she cannot watch her daughter run a relay or throw a discus because Drake University decided that an outdoor stadium was not safe enough.”

According to the Iowa High School Athletic Association, which represents boy’s sports in the state, there will be two tickets available for each qualifying participant in the session in which they compete.

According to television station KCCI, Hardin replied to Reynolds’ letter, pointing out that the capacity percentage at the meet will be larger than the vast majority of Major League Baseball teams. He also said that the percentage of capacity at the Kentucky Derby, which Reynolds gave as an example of an event being done the right way, was the exact same as what Drake has planned for the state track competition.

“We are thrilled they will have the ability to pursue state championships inside historic Drake Stadium and having each participant with at least two family members in the stands cheering for them will certainly add to their experience,” Hardin wrote.

At the Drake Relays in late April, another major track and field competition the school hosts annually, masks were required for all attendees and seating was limited to around 20% capacity. The school has a policy in place requiring the use of face masks in campus buildings and while less than six feet away from others, including outdoor settings.

The IHSAA advises schools to limit spectators according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, including six feet of social distancing between family groups in stands. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union offered similar guidance to its member sports in February, saying that while the governor’s public health proclamations no longer limit attendance at events, that organizers should “take reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering...including social distancing practices.”

The CDC says that outdoor venues are safer for large gatherings, but that masking and six-foot social distancing between individuals or family groups should still be observed.

The state track and field championships take place between Thursday, May 20, and Saturday, May 22, 2021.

Read the full text of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ letter to Drake University below:

Dear Director Hardin,

Thank you for once again agreeing to host this month’s lowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and lowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) State Track & Field Championships. Each year, this event serves as the pinnacle of athletic achievement for many high school students. The memories made at this competition cannot be replaced.

It has come to my attention that Drake University is considering imposing a capacity restriction at the Track & Field Championships. This restriction caps attendance at around 33% of the massive outdoor venue’s capacity. (Compare to a 26% cap for indoor state high school basketball this past February.) This capacity restriction prevents parents, spectators, and competitors from taking part in a storied lowa tradition. And most importantly, this capacity restriction defies all logic and common sense of what we know—and have learned—about COVID-19.

All across the country, outdoor sporting events have been conducted safely and effectively without imposing arbitrary capacity limits. Texans have returned to watching baseball in person, and Kentuckians cheered on their horses at the Derby this past weekend. Nebraska will hold its State Track & Field Championships on the same dates as our lowa event—without capacity limits. Americans have learned how to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of pandemic response. So, too, I trust lowans to make decisions in the best interest of their own health and the health of those around them.

To be clear, the State’s Proclamation of Public Health Disaster Emergency contains no capacity limits for gatherings of any kind. And the IHSAA and IGHSAU have bent over backward to institute reasonable public health measures to ensure the health and safety of anyone in attendance. I understand it is your decision whether to impose arbitrary capacity limits. But if you do, somewhere in Iowa, a mother will learn she cannot watch her daughter run a relay or throw a discus because Drake University decided that an outdoor stadium was not safe enough.

I strongly encourage you to consider this letter when deciding whether Drake University will institute capacity limits at the State Track & Field Championships this month.

Sincerely,

Kim Reynolds

Governor of lowa”

Read Drake University Director of Athletics Brian Hardin’s response letter below:

“Dear Governor Reynolds,

Thank you for your appreciation and gratitude for Drake University hosting the Iowa High School State Track & Field Championships. You are correct that this event — the largest and best high school state meet in our country — creates lasting memories for the competitors and we are proud to offer the opportunity to the best in Iowa to compete on our famed Blue Oval.

One year ago, we were unable to host the state meet as it was cancelled, along with all other spring sports at the high school and collegiate level. To see the progress our communities have made in the past year that has allowed athletic competitions to resume has been comforting to many.

We have been pleased to provide spectators the ability to attend athletic events on our campus since November. Beginning with our successful men’s and women’s basketball teams, we increased the percentage of attendance throughout the season at the Knapp Center. For the Drake Relays, the percentage of capacity increased again from what we had permitted for Knapp Center events. I am very pleased that we have increased the capacity for the high school state meet compared to what we made available for the Drake Relays. This increase in spectator capacity meets the request made to us that each participating student-athlete receive two tickets.

The capacity percentage we will have for the Iowa High School State Track & Field Championships will be greater than the percentage used by 25 of 30 Major League Baseball teams. Additionally, our capacity percentage will be almost identical to what was permitted at the Kentucky Derby this past weekend in Louisville as just over 51,000 fans attended the spacious venue that holds more than 160,000 spectators.

Our great state meet will have full fields of competition as 24 individuals and 24 relay teams will compete in every event in all four classes for both boys and girls. We are thrilled they will have the ability to pursue state championships inside historic Drake Stadium and having each participant with at least two family members in the stands cheering for them will certainly add to their experience.

Again, thank you for your letter and for your kind words about us hosting this year’s Iowa High School State Track & Field Championships.

Sincerely,

Brian Hardin

Director of Athletics”

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