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'That Was Really, Really Tough': Coronavirus Disrupts Iowa High School Baseball And Softball

The River Valley Wolverines play baseball against the Kingsley-Pierson Panthers in late June.

It's a warm and humid summer night in late June in Correctionville. Girls and boys and playing softball and baseball in the small rural western Iowa town. Families have spaced out on the bleachers to watch. Some crowd behind the fence at home plate in lawn chairs. 

Nicole Goodwin is standing between the softball field and the adjacent baseball field, keeping an eye on both games.

“We’re healthy and trying to stay safe with everybody,” Goodwin said. “And that’s right now what your main goal is as a parent, as a player, as a coach and as an athletic director and stuff.”

Goodwin is the high school athletic director for the Kingsley-Pierson School District. She says they’ve had a great start to a shorter summer season. Though they did have a recent scare that some of their players had possibly been exposed to COVID-19.  

“They got tested at some of the test sites and they came back – I think it was within 48 hours – it was really quick and they were all negative,” Goodwin said.   

Across the state, schools are taking extra precautions to monitor the health of players and coaches. The state’s Department of Education put out guidance for summer sports. Things like players and coaches taking their temperatures before practice and games. But these are just suggestions, not mandates.

And then there are the little things: Players like Austin Holtz can’t spit sunflower seed shells anymore. 

“I enjoy my sunflower seeds while I’m chillin’ at center field or chillin’ at shortstop,” Holtz said. “But other than that, I think everything is fair.” 

A varsity softball player from the Kingsley-Pierson Panthers is up to bat, as a player from the River-Valley Wolverines prepares to pitch.

In Cedar Falls, two varsity athletes recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the athletic director ended the junior varsity softball season. He expressed concerns about cross contamination between teams. The varsity teams have been quarantining, but they start practice again on Thursday.

Roni Steffener plays first base on a team that had a positive test and has been in quarantine. 

“It was like right in the midst of our season and we were actually starting to feel like a family when we were on the field with each other,” Steffener said. “And that was really, really tough.”

Of the more than 40 high school baseball and softball teams that the coronavirus pandemic has caused some sort of a disruption for, at least 20 teams have had to go into quarantine and suspend their seasons since June. So far, seven of them have ended their seasons early. Various others have rescheduled games over concerns about a possible exposure to the virus. 

Cedar Falls Varsity Baseball Coach Brett Williams said he wanted a sense of normalcy for the players, but also warned them there are risks.

“And that’s something you have to determine as an individual and as a family: Are you willing to take that risk?” Williams said.

Despite hundreds of new daily COVID-19 cases around the state, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed high school baseball and softball to start practicing June 1. Their games could begin two weeks later. Sarah Laaser-Webb’s son Darryl plays on a team in Ames. She said when she heard the governor’s announcement she had an immediate reaction:

“[I was] kind of sick to my stomach actually,” Laaser-Webb said.

Laaser-Webb said to her it felt too soon. But she let her son play because it’s his senior year. 

“We’re taking precautions at home,” she said. “When he gets home, he walks straight in and takes showers, and we’re just doing the best we can.”

Health officials call baseball and softball low contact sports, especially when compared to football. And it’s obvious teens are itching to get back to normal activities after missing spring sports. The question is whether they can do it safely.