Prep Sports

Eric Stenberg - ER doctor and coach - feels Iowa high school summer sports are viable, with certain restrictions

Benton Community softball coach sent a proposal with recommendations to IGHSAU, IHSAA

Benton Community softball coach Eric Stenberg talks to his players during a practice in 2016. Stenberg, also an emergenc
Benton Community softball coach Eric Stenberg talks to his players during a practice in 2016. Stenberg, also an emergency-room doctor, encourages a summer high-school sports season, with several restrictions and rules. (The Gazette)

He doesn’t profess to be an expert, though his knowledge on the matter is higher than most.

Eric Stenberg is an emergency room doctor. And the head softball coach at Benton Community High School.

His message is this:

If not now, when?

“If we don’t try this summer to get back out there, when are we going to try this?” Stenberg said Sunday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has left the door open for the potential of summer high school sports — though delayed — in Iowa. They are suspended until June 1.

Stenberg sent a proposal to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the Iowa High School Athletic Association, spelling out how a summer season could work.

“I think, with appropriate precautions, and with the assumption that the governor opens things up, that softball and baseball can be done in a safe manner,” he said. “It’s something we can pull off.”

He has a detailed list of recommendations on everything from mound visits to concessions and transportation.

“They aren’t all things that have to be followed,” he said. “Just doing three simple things would help — sanitizing the ball, fans social-distancing in the stands, and sanitizing hands when players come into the dugout.”


Stenberg has been the Bobcats’ coach since 2014, winning a Class 3A state championship in 2016 with a team led by Amber Fiser and Alyssa Wiebel. He serves at Mercy Iowa City and Washington County Hospital.

He said he is “definitely more optimistic” about the prospects of a season than he had been a couple of weeks ago.

“The nature of (COVID-19) was unknown then,” he said. “There were really bad numbers coming out of New York City. Nobody knew how hard Iowa was going to be hit.

“From what I have witnessed, there is less hospitalization, fewer deaths. I’m hopeful we have hit the peak and we’re on the downhill slide. The rate for bad outcomes in youth is extremely low,

“But the most important thing is this — I believe this venture should be an optional venture. If parents don’t want their kids to play, I understand.”

Stenberg said response to his post, which also has made its way to social media, has been “tremendously positive.

“My sons follow that more than me,” he said. “There have been a few negative responses, but that’s it.

“I don’t feel my opinion is the be-all, end-all, but I do have an understanding of the virus, and I’ve been around baseball and softball a lot, so I feel I have something to share.”


Eric Stenberg’s proposal for Iowa high school baseball and softball

I have given considerable thought to many of the concerns that were raised, and I believe I have formatted some solutions that will help to ensure the safety of our players, fans and umpiries while maintaining the integrity of the game. My response, while lengthy, will break down steps that I believe SHOULD happen, and those that COULD happen. In essence it will provide a couple of scenarios, with one being much more stringent, but BOTH easily achieved.



• Wear masks.

• Conduct pregame meeting socially distant.


• Place plate umpire behind pitcher, spacing safely.



• Keep clean and sanitized balls in home dugout. Have sanitation person (gloved).

• Spray or wipe balls with disinfectant. Foul balls returned to home dugout.


• Balls wiped down every half-inning.



• No sharing of equipment.


• Share equipment but have it wiped down after each use.



• Make wearing during game optional.


• Mandate all offensive players wear a mask. Teams could provide to own players to use for the season like uniform or have players provide their own.



• Stress that participation is voluntary. This goes for players, umpires and schools. Do what they are comfortable with. No penalty/judgment for opting out.



• Mandate each player sanitize hands before first going on field, and each time they come off field/enter field.



• Abide by social distancing. Zig-zag seating pattern, with one person per row or skipping row. Limit roster size.


• Allow parent to transport their own player if they choose. Make bus half-full capacity. Similar to restaurants.



• Maintain 6-foot at all times between family groups. No bleacher seating.


• Eliminate altogether. Do live streaming of games.



• Limit to pitcher, catcher and coach socially distanced.



• Have quick-grab items only (water, candy). No hot food. Fans spread 6 feet apart in line.

• Worker masked/gloved. Allow players/fans to bring in own food.


• Water/pop only (bottled).

• No concessions at all. Players/fans must bring their own.



• Eliminate person-to-person contact with a “free will” container for donations. Suggest $5 per adult. No change given. Person present, if necessary, only to supervise money container.



• Space out 6 feet. Consider roster limits. Extra benches outside dugouts for players.



• Make area behind home plate and in bleachers off limits to fans. No fans dugout to dugout area. That would make room for players to spread out.



• Limit number of players per practice. Alternate times. Example: Infielders (max 10) at one time, outfielders at another. Keep distancing practices with drills, etc. Sanitize shared equipment/balls/hands frequently.


• Temp in before practices and games.

There are absolute measures we can take to ensure a near zero rate of transmission.

1. If you are sick, you stay home.

2. Don’t go to mouth/face. If you do, sanitize.

3. Cover cough and sneezes.

4. No spitting our sunflower seeds.

5. Only individual player water in dugouts.

6. No high-fives/handshakes.

7. Team meeting only if socially distant. Could prohibit these until practice.

If someone becomes ill, they most likely contacted the virus somewhere else. An outdoor venue with attention to safety and proper handling of equipment/spacing/sanitizing is safer than most other environments including homes, malls, restaurants, beauticians, etc. It is my firm belief that the measures I have outlined can and will allow us to safely return to participation in athletics. I could be happy to answer any questions and discuss this at any time.

Thank you on behalf of our coaches, athletes, umpires and fans.

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