Muscatine Riverhawks find success in postseason

The Muscatine Riverhawks pause for a timeout at a recent game.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Five years ago, Kyle and Samantha Bass had never considered owning a football team. However, a trip to Peoria, Illinois changed that. There, they met the founder of the Mid-American Eight Man Football League, who talked up the benefits of having a local team and how the league wanted to expand in the eastern Iowa region. Intrigued, Kyle Bass said,” we decided to give it a try.”

The team started out small. Bass recalls, “we literally started with 15 guys we knew and grew from there.” From their humble beginnings, the team rapidly grew. As more people heard about it, the Riverhawks quickly expanded, eventually becoming a full 43 player team.

In their first five years, the Riverhawks have had incredible success. They have made it to the play offs every year, gone to the semifinals three times, and earned their first championship in 2018.

This year, COVID-19 put the team in an awkward position. After holding tryouts in October and beginning practices in November, the Riverhawks began their season in January and looked forward to making a playoff run in March. However, the pandemic, and the concerns about travel it brought with it, put their games on hold.

After much coordination with cities throughout the league, practice and play resumed this summer. Though the team has had to get creative, finding predominantly private lots to play on when public fields closed to large gatherings, Bass felt grateful that the team got to play again at all. “We’ve been one of the only leagues to be able to accommodate play this year,” he shared. Though the league playoffs will go on, Bass thinks it unlikely that the Riverhawks will get to compete in any national tournaments as many other leagues remain on hold.

Since games resumed in both Iowa and Illinois, Bass says, “the League has taken it very seriously,” making sure that those with positive COVID-19 test results or exposure to people with symptoms quarantine. Though the league paused play for a week when one team experienced several cases, Bass has found that his players have done a good job keeping themselves safe, and few have needed to quarantine for any reason.

Going into the playoffs, the Riverhawks ranked in the top ten nationally and easily defeated their first round opponents, the Effingham County Storm 49-20. Bass took pride in their success, but he, and the players, hope to see them go even deeper into the playoffs. “It feels pretty good, but it’s kind of an expectation we have,” he stated. “We’ve built a winning record; we’re always satisfied with a good season but we’re never satisfied without a championship.”

On Aug. 23 (after this newspaper went to press) the 6-2 Riverhawks faced off against the undefeated Peoria Punishers. Bass acknowledged the game would present a challenge. “It’s going to be a tough, big game,” he asserted, adding, “it’s a fun, intense rivalry.” Should the Riverhawks win, they will progress to the championship, scheduled for Aug. 30.

As the Riverhawks have come into their own over the last five years, Bass, his wife, and recent co-owners Eric and Melissa Johnson value the positive and successful culture the team has fostered. “It’s created a good family environment for a lot of guys over the last five seasons,” reflected Bass.