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Heart of America Conference doubles down on fall 2020 sports start

Julie Rach
Nebraska City News-Press

The Heart of America Athletic Conference (Heart) Commissioner, Lori Thomas, has confirmed the Heart still intends to resume play this fall according to the guidelines established by the NAIA Council of Presidents (NAIA-COP), the Heart Council of Presidents (COP), and the Heart Task Force.

"While the landscape of the COVID-19 situation remains very fluid, we will continue to adjust our sails and move forward with optimism for the upcoming fall season," shared Thomas. "Our task force and the COP believe it is in the best interest of our 14-members to continue the opening of competition this fall as planned. We will closely monitor the situation as it changes throughout the course of the season and follow all safety measures required by state and local governments for each of our institutions. The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, and spectators still remains at the forefront of our planning."

Member schools can begin practicing on Saturday, August 15th. Men's soccer, women's soccer, women's volleyball, and cross country will open competition no sooner than September 5th with football to follow by opening on September 12th.

"Opening contests in the fall as planned will provide us with the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary while still getting in quality conference competition while we're able to," added Thomas. "If a team is forced to quarantine due to positive cases, we'll be able to simply postpone those games to the spring versus canceling them altogether." 

The Heart Task Force and Council of Presidents will continue to meet weekly throughout the fall season. This will allow the opportunity to stay on top of any issues and make adjustments if necessary. The conference is expected to release the Heart Promise, a document set to address the best practices for a health and safety competitive environment, prior to the start of fall practices. 

The NAIA released statements this week, announcing the postponement of all fall championship events to Spring 2021 and adjustments to the original testing protocol. This decision still allows NAIA conferences to compete in the fall and winter if they so choose while still being able to qualify and participate in national championships. 

"We are thankful for the autonomy to do what we feel is best for our conference in this situation. Moving national championships to the spring does not impact all of our competing programs and there is no guarantee that the landscape of the COVID-19 situation will be any different at that time than it is now," stated Thomas. "We are choosing to focus on what is best for the overwhelming majority of our member institutions and student-athletes. The NAIA had to make a decision based on serving the entire membership, which we fully respect and understand."

Melvin Part of Heart Task Force

Peru State head athletic trainer Brent Melvin has been serving as a member of the Heart Task Force. The committee members have been meeting weekly via Zoom to continually review and update the procedures the conference will follow this fall.

On the campus, Melvin and athletic trainers, Vickie Sheley and Kimberly Behrends, along with associate athletic director Ted L. Harshbarger, meet regularly to modify the plans for the Bobcat athletic department. The plans include the move-in and check-in process for Peru State student-athletes which will begin on August 10. In addition, the group reviews steps for the continued health and safety of the student-athletes throughout not only practices, but team meetings as well.

Peru State Updates

Bobcat athletic director Wayne Albury knows that all plans will continue to evolve and could change at any moment due to the Covid-19 situation. Albury stated, "I believe the Heart's decision is the right one based on the information available and for those institutions in the Midwest. While there are a lot of questions that will still need to be addressed, at least we know we will be moving forward at this point."

The Bobcat volleyball team is scheduled to begin play on Saturday, Sept. 5, when they participated in the GoSarpy.Com Labor Day Tournament hosted by Bellevue University. The 'Cats will host their first home competition on Labor Day with a varsity/junior varsity match against Culver-Stockton (Mo.).

That same day, it will be a historical day of sorts for Peru State as the men's cross country team, along with their women's county part in the Maple Leaf Invite hosted by Baker in Baldwin City, Kan.

The Peru State football team and junior varsity softball team will both start their seasons on Saturday, Sept. 12. The football team will be in Atchison, Kan., and will face Benedictine. The junior varsity softball team opens their fall campaign in Council Bluffs, Iowa, taking on Iowa Western Community College.

The women's golf team will first be in action on Monday, Sept. 14, when they take part in the Midland University Fall Invitational in Fremont.

The bowling teams' schedule is a little in flux at this point due to the pandemic, but should be finalized soon. The junior varsity baseball team's schedule is yet to be announced at this time.

Albury added, "It will be important for all Bobcat fans to check the athletic website, College's Facebook, and the Peru State Bobcat twitter accounts for updates. We will communicate any new information as quickly as we can which will include ticket information for our fall contests."