Prep Baseball

As state tournament resumes Monday, IHSAA feels unique baseball season was a success

Cedar Falls celebrates their victory over Cedar Rapids Kennedy in a Class 4A baseball substate championship at Kennedy H
Cedar Falls celebrates their victory over Cedar Rapids Kennedy in a Class 4A baseball substate championship at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As the reset button is hit, and the state baseball tournament gets cranked back up Monday at Principal Park in Des Moines, it’s the perfect time to assess how this experiment of a season, of sorts, went.

That it will have a conclusion has to be considered a success. That only 21 of 338 varsity teams were shut down at one point or another over the past month and a half also is a good thing.

On the softball side, it was 26 of 335 varsity teams.

That there has been no word of anyone being hospitalized is another great thing, the best thing. There also has been no documentation of player-to-player, coach-to-player, player-to-coach or coach-to-coach transmission of the potentially deadly virus.

“I would say from my seat, I think it went really well for three important reasons: No. 1, the ADs, No. 2, the coaches, and No. 3, the players,” said Iowa High School Athletic Association Executive Director Tom Keating. “People were very committed to guidelines, and I think they did what they needed to do to make sure they were able to play the games and play them safely.

“By my count, 6 percent of our schools at some point during the year were shut down for part of the season, whether it was one person or the entire team. When you think of 6 percent of 300-some schools, that’s pretty good. I feel bad for especially those that didn’t make it into the postseason because of COVID. But, overall, I think we were happy that people did what they were supposed to do to allow that to happen.”

There were 11 baseball teams that had their postseasons canceled because of a positive COVID-19 test. The two biggest names were West Des Moines Dowling and Southeast Polk, which both were ranked in Class 4A, Dowling No. 1.

Iowa was the first state to resume prep sports after the pandemic hit, using guidelines from the Iowa Department of Education to move forward with baseball and softball. Iowa is the only state to regularly play those sports in the summer.

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County health departments were consulted whenever there was a positive coronavirus test, or when it was discovered someone could have been exposed to a person who tested positive.

“I met with some ADs about a week ago, and I asked them what went OK with this, what was problematic, what did we learn from this that can help in the fall?” Keating said. “To a person, what they thought was what happened between the lines went really well. Because it was the first time through this, the spectator thing was a challenge for some. Not all, but some.

“I think what to do with a possible positive case seemed to them inconsistent, and they would like more guidance on that. And I think we’re going to see that. So, overall, I think they thought it went well. They would like, and I was the same way, too, as an AD, the more specific guidelines you give us, the better. Long answer to a short question, I think it went well.”

Keating was asked if the IHSAA had any realistic expectations for how things would go.

“I think we had to keep an open mind,” he said. “We lived by a couple of things during this. No. 1 was this has presented us an opportunity to be problem solvers, so let’s embrace it. Let’s recognize that things were going to come up that we weren’t ready for. My two favorite phrases are 'at this moment in time.' We had to take it day by day. Then the other, quite frankly it sounds kind of silly, but it was kind of like flying a plane while you are trying to build it. There is no manual for this, no guide. We just had to try and find the best information we could and go with that.

“I think one of the challenges for anybody, whether it’s the governor, whether it’s us, whether it’s the mayor, a city council, a school official, the information just isn’t definitive enough to say this is the way you should go. There is a lot of interpretation, there is a lot of room for decision making. We knew that’s what was ahead of us, but that was our responsibility. If we were going to give kids an opportunity, we had to embrace it.”

Keating said the IHSAA never had a specific number of schools being affected by COVID in mind when it came to contemplating shutting everything down. Needless to say, whatever that number would have been was never close to being approached.

“The easy and broad answer to that is as long as the majority of schools could continue to play, we were going to play,” he said. “What exactly was that number? What majority: 51 percent, 60 percent? We hadn’t landed there, yet. If things had really taken off, and we saw maybe 20 teams in a week that were shut down, I think we’d have had to take a hard look at that and say where is this going? But we didn’t see that avalanche. It was kind of spotty, here and there, and it was spread out.”

The IHSAA’s board of control OK'd an adjustment Friday to the 2020 football season, in which dates for practice, first games and the postseason weren’t changed but virtually everything else was made different. Schools will play as many as seven regular-season games instead of nine, with every school not affected by the coronavirus qualifying for the playoffs.

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Specific health guidelines will be announced Aug. 1. Keating said he felt momentum toward all fall sports because of the success of baseball and softball.

“What really encourages me, again, was no player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach transmission,” he said. “So that makes me feel like if we put some things in place, we have a chance to conduct this season. And we’re going to try. Absolutely.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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