CORONAVIRUS

Ban on youth sports amid COVID-19 surge in Iowa causes confusion

Gymnastics and dance among programs with permission to continue, with precautions

Bailey Libby, 16, leaps into the air Thursday as she works on the balance beam at Twisters Gymnastics, 4625 Tower Terrac
Bailey Libby, 16, leaps into the air Thursday as she works on the balance beam at Twisters Gymnastics, 4625 Tower Terrace Rd. NE, in Cedar Rapids. Twisters resumed classes Thursday after first canceling them when Gov. Kim Reynolds this week issued new public health orders that confused many. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Youth sports programs, halted last spring because of COVID-19, have again been put on hold under a new proclamation from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

But some non-contact sports, including gymnastics, dance and soccer, have asked for permission to continue because they say they are able to maintain social distancing, wear masks and sanitize indoor equipment. The proclamation and now the waivers to exempt some have created confusion among program leaders and parents.

“It’s been a real mess the whole week,” said Jon Cook, director of coaching for the Iowa Soccer Club, based in Iowa City.

Reynolds’ proclamation Tuesday prohibited “sporting or recreational activities of any size” except for high school, college and professional sports. The order specifically called out close-contact sports like wrestling and basketball as being off limits, but a statement from the governor’s office also mentioned gymnastics, swimming and dance.

The proclamation went on to say sports could proceed if they kept participants and coaches 6 feet apart, limited spectators and required masks for anyone besides the competing athletes.

“A lot of us are doing these things already, which is why we were so shocked she singled us out,” said Candice Van Hove, owner of the National Dance Academy in Cedar Falls.

Before the dance studio reopened last summer, Van Hove marked off 6-by-6-foot squares on the floor and her husband built portable ballet bars so dancers could use them in individual squares. Van Hove installed air scrubbers on the heating and air conditioning system and limited parent access to the studio.

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If bars, restaurants and casinos could be open, Van Hove couldn’t figure out why dance studios should be closed.

“There was a big group of Iowa dance studio owners who jumped on it,” she said. “We started a petition and got lots of legal advice. As of Tuesday evening, we received an email from someone in the governor’s legal office that saying yes, we could still do dance classes.”

Twisters Gymnastics in Cedar Rapids canceled Wednesday classes over uncertainty about the proclamation. But then Thursday, it sent an email to parents announcing the classes would resume.

“After some research and clarification, we were happy to find out that we can, in fact, continue!” owner John Mangold wrote.

The proclamation caused stress and anxiety for coaches, gymnasts and parents, Mangold told The Gazette. And because youth sports haven’t been identified as a source of community-spread COVID-19, the ban seemed unnecessary.

“We mandated masks for all athletes in the gym while participating,” he said. “We have 30 team kids work out in the same time period, but each has a group that stays exactly the same to eliminate any kind of contamination to another group.”

The Iowa Soccer Club’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee, formed in May, decided Sunday to stop in-person indoor practices for now because of surging positive tests in Johnson County, Cook said.

“We made a decision independent of the governor and independent of the proclamation,” Cook said. “We’ll be following just the science and the current conditions in our county.”

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The club refunded tens of thousands of dollars of registrations for in-person soccer last spring, Cook said. Even with help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program in April, May and June, another prolonged shutdown will be hard — on the club and the players.

“Kids need exercise, especially during the winter months,” Cook said. Some of the older soccer players sign up for virtual classes. “Those practices have a lot of value, but it’s all the hard parts, but none of the fun parts.”

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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