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Spring, summer sports in Iowa both in limbo

IHSAA remains in wait-and-see mode

Webster City boys’ soccer coach Craig Signorin watches from the sideline during a 2019 match at Lynx Field. Spring sports remain in a holding pattern during the COVID-19 pandemic. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Iowa’s wait-and-see approach to prep spring sports continues, but there’s been a new wrinkle added to the overall landscape over the past week.

It’s now wait-and-see with summer sports as well.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, here in Iowa schools and non-essential businesses remain closed. A new report from the Iowa Department of Education on how schools are to proceed going forward is expected either today or Friday, which could alter the conversation.

As of now, schools across the state are closed until April 13. However, social distancing guidelines have been recommended through the end of April, decreasing the chances that schools will resume class until then.

What does this all mean for sports? It’s not great.

WCHS third baseman Leah Kasch watches her throw sail across the diamond during a 2019 softball game at Lynx Field. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

“Definitely we have developed contingency plans for if schools reopen on April 13th, or May 1st if that happens, and we’ve talked about what happens if school is canceled altogether,” Chris Cuellar, the communications director at the Iowa High School Athletic Association, said in an interview on Wednesday. “We haven’t finalized what spring or summer sports looks like if school is canceled through the end of the year, but we have talked through all of those things.

“It’s challenging no matter what we do for the schools and for the kids, but we’re trying to make the best decisions we can. All of what we do is predicated on what the Department of Education says.”

Cuellar was blunt on one specific point.

“If there isn’t high school, we can’t have high school sports,” he said. “So we’re kind of at the whim of whatever the decision is.”

Currently, all spring activities are under suspension by both the IHSAA and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union until at least April 12. All sports are prohibited from practice, competition and sanctioned activity until the closure is lifted. There cannot be any in-person contact between coaches, administrators and student-athletes throughout the closure.

Baseball was set to begin limited practice on April 1. Preseason practices for baseball and softball are still scheduled for May 4, but that date is also in limbo due to the potential for schools either remaining closed through April or possibly the end of the school year.

“The possibility exists that we don’t have spring sports,” Cuellar said. “The possibility exists that we don’t have summer sports. (Wednesday) was supposed to be the first day for (baseball) hitters, that’s not happening. The first day of practice (on May 4) is probably not going to happen. If we’re not starting practice until June, what does that look like? So we’ll just have to see how long this goes.”

There has been some talk of schools attempting to go to an online classroom through the end of the year, but if the buildings are empty can sports take place? That’s a question that Cuellar says the IHSAA doesn’t have an answer for presently.

And the current recommended guidelines of gathering in no more than groups of 10 makes the situation even trickier.

“We would ask for a ruling from the Department of Education on how that would work and I don’t think they even know yet,” he said. “But for the purposes of events, even greater than counting a school in session is the amount of people we can have congregating at any single time. Even if they did return to school, how are we going to host certain events? For something like track and field, 10 people is two relay teams and the starter. So we don’t have a lot of wiggle room there in terms of being practical and safe about it.”

Late last month, Webster City resident Alesha Whitmore started a petition on change.org for spring sports to be allowed to flow into the summer months, and currently more than 30,000 people have joined her fight.

“We are petitioning for spring sports in Iowa to be allowed to flow into the summer months,” the petition reads. “Our main goal is to allow for ‘full’ seasons (or as full as possible) of these sports, as many had already started and were cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The petition continues: “This delay would allow our student athletes, and especially seniors, the opportunity to finish out their high school sports in completion and give them the chances they deserve from all their hard work.”

Cuellar says the IHSAA sympathizes with spring athletes and their families, and it’s still the organization’s hope that events will materialize in some fashion.

“We were encouraged by the passion shown by a lot of sports fans because we want to be back just like they do,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to get these kids a season, but the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union are at the whim of this pandemic. We need schools back in session to provide high school activities.”

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