By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Needless to say that 2020 is worse than we could’ve ever imagined, but 2019 also had its share of misery, at least from a Hawkeye sports standpoint.
It started with the death of Kenny Arnold in April 2019 and ended with Bump Elliott and Hayden Fry both passing away in December.
Then came the virus, which has had us in a stranglehold since March, and now the death of Lute Olson.
Three of the biggest legends in Hawkeye sports history, along with one of the most inspirational Hawkeye student-athletes of all time, have all passed away over the past 16 months.
Here is the link to Monday’s podcast
It’s just been one low point after another, made worse, of course, by a global pandemic that has caused the fall football season to be canceled and caused over 180,000 deaths in the United States.
The Iowa Athletic Department also announced on Monday that it will be pausing workouts for all athletics teams until after Labor Day due to a recent increase in positive cases of the Coronavirus in the community.
The department conducted 815 COVID-19 tests for the week of Aug. 24-30 and 93 positive tests and 722 negative tests were received.
So instead of getting excited about the Iowa football team’s 2020 season opener against Northern Illinois, which was scheduled for this coming Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, we’re still dealing with the virus, and all the misery that comes with it.
Iowa announced last week that it was cutting four sports due to budget shortfalls caused by the virus, and Iowa tennis player Will Davies shared his thoughts as a guest on the HawkFanatic-KCJJ radio show and podcast on Monday.
It was sad listening to Davies, who is from England, talk about his sport being eliminated, and about how it happened.
The student-athletes from the four teams received an e-mail telling them to gather in 30 minutes for a meeting on campus with Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta.
It was during the meeting that Barta told the student-athletes their sports were being cut, and according to Davies, Barta left the room after just a few minutes and then had his associates answer questions from the student-athletes.
Davies feels that Barta should’ve stayed and answered questions, and that’s a reasonable expectation for an athletic director in this kind of situation.
These kids were hurting and needed leadership and guidance, and a shoulder to cry on during a life-changing moment.
They needed to see the leader of Iowa athletics feel their pain, and they needed to suffer with him.
If Barta truly did leave after just a few minutes, and why would any student-athlete lie about that, he missed an opportunity to be a true leader, and that’s a shame.
Lute Olson, on the other hand, never missed an opportunity to be a leader and that was apparent during Monday’s radio show when four of his former Iowa players called into the show to pay tribute to Olson, who coached the Iowa men’s basketball team for nine seasons from 1974-83.
The four players were Dan Frost, Scott Thompson, Mike Henry and the great Ronnie Lester.
That was also the order in which we interviewed the four players, but that wasn’t necessarily by design.
We reached out to all four of the former players, with help from their former Iowa teammate Mike Gatens, and asked if they could call into the show between 10 and 11 a.m., but in no particular order, and with no times set.
All four agreed and Frost was the first to call followed by Thompson, Henry and Lester, although, it’s uncertain who actually called first because I was told later that Thompson and Lester both had to call multiple times because the line was busy.
I was told that Lester, arguably the greatest player in program history, made several calls because the line busy, but he kept calling.
Lester kept calling because he wanted to pay tribute to the coach who helped change the course of his life.
Lester kept calling because he knows that we at the radio station value his opinion and appreciate when he gives us some time, and he didn’t want to let us down.
Lester kept calling, because in addition to being arguably the greatest player in program history, he is also a good and decent person, and so was Olson.
They both made each other better and Iowa fans were the beneficiaries of their bond.
I feel bad for Lester having to deal with a busy phone line, but I also feel inspiration and comfort knowing that he thinks so much of Olson that he kept calling.
It was the kind of emotional boost I needed to help cope with this new normal.
Thank you, Ronnie Lester, and RIP Lute Olson.