A successful summer sports season in Iowa could go a long way toward determining what fall sports will look like across the country as the United States continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a proclamation issued May 20 by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced the state would hold its summer baseball and softball seasons. Practices for both sports were scheduled to start Monday, June 1, with games starts as early as Monday, June 15.
“This is uncharted territory because this is the first big reopening. Iowa is the only state to have summer baseball and softball, so we’re the poster child and we want to make a good showing. This will show how things can work for the fall. I feel more positive about this every day. The Clarinda baseball and softball programs are set to have a good summer,” Clarinda High School Activities Director Josh Porter said.
“I think everybody was pretty excited. We were holding out hope for a baseball season and they have set up some good guidelines to protect everyone’s safety as we move forward,” Clarinda baseball coach Rod Eberly said.
“I’m ecstatic. We’re happy to get back to some sort of normalcy, see the girls again and get back to work. You see these kids in passing at basketball games or in the weight room, but then you don’t see them for two months. You kind of miss them all,” Clarinda softball coach Seth Allbaugh said.
Due to the threat of spreading the COVID-19 virus among students, Gov. Reynolds ordered all Iowa schools to be closed March 16. Ultimately, on April 17, Reynolds recommended keeping the schools closed for the remainder of the school year.
In response to the initial closing of the schools, the IHSAA and IGHSAU prohibited all spring activities. In addition, workouts for pitchers and catchers, as well as the start of official team practices for baseball and softball were delayed.
Once Reynolds recommended closing schools for the rest of the school year, the IHSAA and IGHSAU cancelled all spring sports. Summer sports remained suspended as well.
“With everything cancelling, and the way things were trending, I was pretty nervous that we would not have a baseball season,” Eberly said.
“It’s been really crazy. When they first shut everything down I did not think it would be this long. I thought there would be no problem with us having a season, but as it started creeping closer to our season I started getting nervous. One day it seemed like everything was good and the next day there was no chance whatsoever,” Allbaugh said. “Cancelling the spring sports season put a big fear in me. If they would do it to those sports, they could do it to ours too. It was all about the fear of the unknown because nobody knew what was going on and what it was going to look like if we did play.”
Despite the announcement to proceed with the baseball and softball seasons, Porter said there was still a great deal of discussion about how schools should proceed. Besides normal challenges like scheduling, hiring umpires and arranging travel for the teams, Porter said safety precautions for practices and games have also been considered to keep everyone involved safe.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to play this summer, but with that opportunity comes a lot of challenges,” Porter said. “We have to work with the guidelines from the governor, Iowa Public Health and suggestions from Page County Public Health. We are trying to do our best for our kids, our programs and our community.”
Porter said the IHSAA and IGHSAU have been adamant they do not want to change the game itself. However, Porter said there will be some changes fans will notice.
During the exchange of lineups and ground rules meeting before the game, only one coach and the umpire will be involved. To comply with social distancing guidelines, those individuals will be six feet apart during the meeting.
“You will also not see kids standing shoulder to shoulder for the National Anthem or for player introductions. There also will be no high fives at the end of the game,” Porter said.
As players arrive at practice, Porter said Clarinda will be taking their temperature to ensure they are not running a fever. During practice, teams are not to use their dugouts and observe social distancing guidelines while performing fielding drills or waiting to take batting practice.
Teams will be able to use the dugouts during games, but players should spread out as much as possible unless they are actively participating in the game. Only essential personnel such as players, coaches, trainers and umpires will be permitted on the field during games. All others like statisticians, pitch count designees, photographers, and media are not be to in the dugout or extended dugout area during games.
Porter said efforts are also being made to have Clarinda players wear their own batting helmets as much as possible rather than sharing helmets. Fans are also being encouraged not to retrieve any foul balls hit during games. A designated person, such as a ball boy, will collect the balls.
No concession stands are permitted during games. Schools have also been instructed to limit the use of bleachers by fans to ensure social distancing guidelines are being observed. Porter said this could involve marking recommended areas for fans to sit in the bleachers. In addition, fans are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and spread out along the foul lines.
“I don’t see us limiting fans unless things get crazy. We have enough area for people to spread out,” Porter said. “We’re trying not to over think the process. We want to keep everything as simple as possible, but also follow the guidelines.”
With games starting June 15, the regular season for baseball will last four weeks for Class 1A and Class 2A, while Class 3A and Class 4A will play five weeks. Class 1A preliminary playoff games will start July 9 with first round games in Class 1A and Class 2A starting July 11. First round playoff games in Class 3A and Class 4A will start July 17.
The 2020 Iowa high school state baseball tournament will then begin July 24 at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Originally, the IGHSAU was planning on a three week regular season for softball. However, the state tournament was pushed back one week to allow for four weeks of regular season play.
Regional playoff games in all five classes for softball will begin during the week of July 13. The state tournament will then be played from July 27-31 at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
Based on those schedules, Porter said both the Clarinda baseball and softball programs would play approximately 15 games this season.
“It’s a relief to be able to get out there and play. The kids can have some fun and enjoy some normalcy. We have four seniors, so this is their final year. They have already missed so much because of the virus, so I’m grateful they are getting to play their last year,” Allbaugh said.
“I feel good for our seniors. We have three that will be out and two of them were big in spring sports. You feel bad they missed out on that, so we’re glad they get to have a season to finish out their high school careers,” Eberly said.