BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – There’ll be no spitting of sunflower seed shells and no hot dogs or walking tacos, but the games are on.
With the Wednesday announcement by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that Iowa’s high schools were approved to start their summer sports programs June 1, area coaches and activities directors went to work formulating plans.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union issued a joint statement including guidance for schools, athletes and coaches after convening board meetings following Reynold’s daily press conference.
The unions said practices can now start officially on June 1, with games approved to begin June 15. All other out-of-season sports contact between coaches and student athletes is prohibited until July 1.
Fort Madison Activities Director Jeremy Swink said a meeting with Southeast Conference coaches is set for 7 a.m. Thursday morning to start to hammering out schedules.
But Swink said he’s not taking the philosophy of squeezing in as many games as he can.
“Even though it’s a short season, that doesn’t mean my philosophy will be to jam in as many games as we can,” Swink said. “We’ve got pitchers and innings and players’ health to consider. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to play and we should be grateful for that.”
FMHS Head baseball coach Ron Walker also said players shouldn’t be taking anything for granted.
“With COVID-19 we learned that we don’t take anything from granted. Take every opportunity you get and cherish it,” he said.
Walker said the next 10 days will be organizing and getting kids ready to get out of the house and play ball.
“Got a lot to do getting to the kids and parents. As of right now we can’t get them all together in same room until June 1,” he said.
“We’re still waiting on guidance from state and administration to give me the OK to touch base them over the phone. We gotta get uniforms ordered and that’s been on hold to see if we would even have a season.”
Walker said he was thankful for the proactive approach to the season from Swink and the FMCSD administration, which should allow things to progress quickly now that everything has been approved at the state level.
According to the guidance provided, fans will be permitted at the games but are encouraged to sit in groups of less than six with limited bleacher seating available. Swink said the district is considering pulling all the bleachers from the fields.
No concession stands are allowed at the outset of the season and players are not allowed to spit sunflower seed shells. All players and coaches are encouraged to use their own equipment, and temperatures are required to be taken prior to starting any practice or games. Dugouts are off limits during practices, but can be used during games.
Coaches are required to sanitize all shared equipment after use and no team water fountains or hoses are allowed. All players are encouraged to bring their own water or drinks to the field for practices and games.
Any participant who’s had contact with someone exposed to COVID-19, or showing symptoms themselves are not allowed to participate in practice or games.
Fort Madison Head Softball Coach Jared Rehm said he was surprised by the early announcement.
“Everyone was saying June 1 we’d know something, but this came early and when she said we were good to go on June 1, that was some good news. Otherwise would have had to wait on the union on June and it could have been June 3rd or so before we got onto the field.,” Rehm said.
The next 10 days will be spent going through the paperwork, checking physicals, and seeing what the roster looks like.
“I’m getting bombarded right now with emails which is good, I love it,” he said.
“Then just preparing for day 1. How will day 1 look. In the past we’d have open gyms that somebody would run where the kids would be getting reps. But if they’ve been doing some of that on their own, we can get right into the game plan.”
Rehm said he’s anticipating between 20 and 25 games with most being double headers working through the Southeast Conference.
Swink said recommendations from a state baseball advisory committee are that the games should be played they way they are intended without changing much. But he said social distancing on the field is going to be a challenge.
“Let’s face it. That’s going to be close to impossible to be six feet apart,” he said. “You got someone sliding into second and someone else making a tag, there’s just no way.”
Swink said he’s also concerned about everyone finding qualified umpiring in the shortened season.
“There are umpires with underlying conditions that probably won’t umpire this year. That will be tough on us because we have to put a schedule together really quick. So that’s gonna be another layer of this.”
IHSAA Executive Director Tom Keating said the season taking place is a result of coordinated efforts around the state.
“The IHSAA thanks Dr. Lebo, Governor Reynolds, Dr. Pedati, the IDPH and all who have worked diligently to develop these guidelines to help us conduct a baseball season for the young people in Iowa,” IHSAA executive director Tom Keating said.
“We trust that our administrators, coaches, umpires and fans will responsibly follow the guidelines in place to keep themselves and each other safe. This is terrific news and is a step toward getting our student-athletes reconnected to the activities that mean so much to them.”
IGHSAU Executive Director Jean Berger echoed the boys union statement.
“The guidelines laid out by the Department of Education and the Department of Public Health will enable us to safely move forward with a softball season this summer,” IGHSAU executive director Jean Berger said. “We are grateful for their leadership and support.
“We know the games will have different circumstances and that we will all have to work together to keep everyone safe, but we are confident that we are up to this challenge.”
The IGHSAU and IHSAA plan to issue further sport-specific guidance and FAQ lists early next week.
Both organizations currently plan to conduct their state tournaments at their previously announced venues, with IGHSAU softball at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge and IHSAA baseball at Principal Park in Des Moines.