DES MOINES, Iowa — Roosevelt High School senior Thomaj Davis says football has been his biggest incentive for getting through high school and seeking higher education.
“It’s definitely my motivation to get to college. I’m trying to get a good career once I leave college, hopefully the NFL,” he said.
After the Des Moines Public Schools announced it would suspend sports and activities, seniors like Davis began to worry about if they would ever get to play this fall.
“It’s heartbreaking honestly. It’s heartbreaking and it messes with my mimd,” he said.
Students who opted for virtual learning in surrounding districts are still able to participate in sports, because their districts are adhering to state law. Davis said he and teammates are wondering why they cannot do the same, since they were given no choice.
“It’s a political battle and we’re just stuck in the middle waiting for a decision to be made. It’s not right,” he said.
On Tuesday night, the Des Moines school board voted to prepare to transition to a hybrid learning model, which incorporates both online and in-person instruction. However, the board said its transition will be contingent on public health metrics reaching a “safe” level for return, leaving the community without a timeline of when students will be back in the classroom.
In the interim, the Des Moines students will continue learning 100 percent online, in defiance of state law. In a Wednesday news conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds said this decision was “disappointing.”
As long as the district is not in compliance with the state, athletics and activities must remain suspended.
“They are fighting over something, but we’re the people that have to suffer over their decisions,” student athlete Asante Scott said.
Scott and Davis both said they are hopeful they can play this fall, but remain on edge as athletic recruiting ramps up.
“It’s more than sports to me, this is my life,” Davis said. “It’s going to dictate how the rest of my life will go because I can’t afford college right now so I’m really counting on this season.”
On Wednesday, Roosevelt’s star defensive lineman Finn Claypool announced he is transferring to Dowling Catholic High School in order to play this season.
Roosevelt’s coach, Mitchell Moore said he supports Claypool’s decision, and was anticipating some players would transfer if they cannot play.
“They’re fed up with the direction and the leadership, so they gotta do what’s best for their family,” he said.
Moore said the district’s lack of a path forward is failing the students it promises to serve.
“For a school district that hangs their hat on equity and helping people of color – where is the action?” he said.
Moore said he is upset that activities and sports are “taking a back seat,” when he views them as a fundamental aspect of many students lives and paths to success.
“There’s not a better classroom in our district than activities and athletics,” he said. “Those provide big life lessons, hope and strength for our kids and that was taken away.”
Above all else, Moore fears opportunity for higher education will be taken away from his senior players if they do not get a season.
“Without some financial assistance…many of my guys won’t be able to play at the next level and won’t be able to go to college.”