Back on schedule: Summer sports may feature slight changes with safety on the forefront of everyone’s mind
By MARK SCHAFER
Special to the Jefferson Herald
Last week’s announcement by Governor Kim Reynolds gave the green light for summer sports in Iowa to take place, but more questions were left than answers given.
Will players have to play with facemasks on?
How will players get to games?
What will the schedule look like? Are teams required to play? Can players high-five each other after home runs or wins? How much longer can we extend the season?
While those and many more questions have been asked, both the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union are working to find answers to all of those questions.
“Our Board and the Girls Union Board was very prepared,” said Chris Cuellar, the communications director for the IHSAA. “They had all the concerns and considerations in front of them and what they were. I think they met very quickly after the Governor’s address on Wednesday. They felt comfortable with the guidance that came out to go with it. There is a lot of work left to do in terms of sports-specific guidance.”
Before the games scheduled start on June 15, both the IHSAA and IGHSAU will need to set out guidelines on how to play games this summer.
“Developing a clearly communicated and practical guidelines to play is the biggest step that we need to take right now,” Cuellar said. “We need to address all of the concerns that the players, coaches and administrators have brought to us. Wednesday was really exciting for fans and schools and players. We still need to address, with specificity, transportation concerns, scheduling concerns, practices, weight rooms, how many people in a group can be together. We need to really get the cleaning protocols locked down too.”
Cuellar said it wouldn’t be wise to release a 40-page document and expect everyone to read and follow the letter of the law exactly. The guidelines which will be released before the June 1 start date will have to be the law and have to be practical. As far as face masks go, well, that all lies on the players' choice.
“That is still an individual choice,” Cuellar said. “The guidance that we have released is not requiring players, coaches or umpires to wear a face mask. It is entirely optional. If we are still playing in mid-July, I can’t imagine that everyone will want to wear a mask, especially when it’s 95 degrees outside.”
Iowa has recommended that citizens wear masks when going out in public. Wearing a face mask has never been mandatory, which is why it doesn’t seem plausible that nine masked bandits will be playing baseball or softball on diamonds this summer. One thing that will likely remain outlawed, at least based off health recommendations, will be high-fives.
It seems that every school, or, at the very least, a good percentage of the players, wants to play. Especially since the spring sport season was sidelined. However, some communities might not feel comfortable playing.
If that’s the case then both the IHSAA and IGHSAU will withhold judgment at all costs.
“We will completely support whatever decisions a school makes towards playing this summer,” Cuellar said. “Every school district and conference can decide what they want to play, how they want to play, and do their schedules how they see fit.”
A school could even decide to play their games with very specific circumstances, and the IHSAA would not necessarily step in to stop them.
“Let’s say Carroll High wants to only play other schools in Carroll County on Monday’s at noon when the temperature is above 85 degrees,” Cuellar outlined as a hypothetical example. “That is their prerogative and we wouldn’t say anything to stop them. We are supportive of any decision that schools will make with safety in mind.”
That means that some schools may opt-out of the summer sports season altogether. Others may only play a limited schedule. The IHSAA and IGHSAU will take the factors into consideration when it comes time for the playoffs.
Transportation to and from games could limit how far teams travel to games. Before practice begins Cuellar said that both the IHSAA and IGHSAU will release specific guidelines on how players can get to games safely.
PLAYOFFS COULD CHANGE
Both the IHSAA and IGHSAU are planning to end their seasons on the original state tournament dates, with state softball being played at Harlan Rogers Sports complex in Fort Dodge. The baseball season is planned to end at Principal Park in Des Moines on August 1.
The biggest concern, at least in terms of the ending of the season, comes from when the season must end. The last possible date for competition will be Aug. 2 this year.
“Barring rain and we have to play on Aug. 2 we have to wrap up by then no matter what,” Cuellar said. “With the Governor allowing schools to start on Aug. 3 that means we have to wrap up the season on Aug. 2. Our finals are set for a final date of Aug. 1. We can not have graduated seniors playing while the 2020-21 school year is underway.”
So even if rain washes out the last few days of the state baseball tournament, if games can not be completed on Aug. 2, then the season will end that day.
While the season will end, as it always has with the state tournament, the path teams face could be altered this year.
It all depends on participation.
“The toughest way we may have to change the postseason is in terms of classifications. We might have to see when the season starts how many schools are playing and what we might be able to do in terms of playoffs,” Cuellar said. “I have a hard time saying, right now, that we would say that all schools are in the classes they were in on April 1. We could have a situation where, under the old classifications, we only have 12 schools playing in 4A. So some of that will remain to be seen on what our turnout will be like. If we have a normal turnout then we will be able to have a more straight forward postseason.”
A RESPONSIBILITY FOR SAFETY
Iowa, for a long time, has been the only state that plays school-sponsored sports in the summer. Because of that, and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus, that means a lot of eyes will be on Iowa on June 15, when prep sports begin again.
“We have a lot of responsibility to get this right for our schools and our communities,” Cuellar said. “Getting this right and getting it done safely, that is the most important thing. We need to set everyone up for success.”
With Iowa being the first state to introduce prep sports back to the schedule there is a lot of pressure on both the IHSAA and IGHSAU, but Cuellar knows that both organizations are focused on the safety of the players, and they are taking the responsibility to play sports again very seriously.
“If we don’t get to June 15 or something changes that could put the season in jeopardy, we will make the right decision in terms of safety,” Cuellar said.