CORONAVIRUS

Iowa high school baseball and coronavirus: Timeline of events in unusual season

Postseason begins in earnest this weekend, but some teams won't be playing

Western Dubuque's Ben Bryant (5) reaches to try and tag out Linn-Mar's Isaac Anderson (11) as he slides in to second bas
Western Dubuque's Ben Bryant (5) reaches to try and tag out Linn-Mar's Isaac Anderson (11) as he slides in to second base during their game at the Linn-Mar High School baseball diamond in Marion on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

With no better way to describe it, this summer was an experiment. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa stepped to the forefront of sports competition with many eyes across the country focused on the return of high school sports. Shortened baseball and softball seasons allowed for play to resume, providing a blueprint for future seasons.

Here is a timeline of notable dates and occurrences in this unusual baseball season:

MAY 20: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced high school summer sports could be played. Within hours of the news conference, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union declared they were moving forward with a shortened season, releasing safety guidelines set by the Department of Education.

MAY 21: Belmond-Klemme is the first school to cancel summer athletics. It was a unanimous decision by the school board. Belmond-Klemme became the first of four programs, followed by Eagle Grove, Meskwaki and Woodward Academy. Individuals that still wanted to play were allowed to compete for any other high school with the caveat that those schools would let them.

JUNE 1: The first day for organized practice. Teams institute new procedures in practice, emphasizing hand sanitizing and social distancing. Coaches aren’t allowed to use dugouts to huddle up during practices and are responsible for sterilizing equipment after practices. Some teams split up players to limit numbers together in one spot.

JUNE 2: In a narrow vote, the Eagle Grove Community School District school board decided not to field baseball and softball teams. The decision was much closer than the Belmond-Klemme vote.

JUNE 15: High school competition began after a three-month hiatus. The pandemic had halted events after the IHSAA state basketball championships concluded on March 13. Among the opening-night games, North Linn swept Midland in a Tri-Rivers Conference doubleheader in Troy Mills. The bleachers were empty with fans sitting beyond the outfield fence.

Fans at various sites across the state were encouraged to social distance, wear masks when entering and moving around the venue and avoid contact with people outside of their immediate family. No sportsmanship line after the game, no spitting and the defense were the only ones to handle foul balls.

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JUNE 20: Dubuque Wahlert became the first Eastern Iowa varsity baseball program to enact a quarantine and suspend its season for 14 days due to a positive coronavirus test by a member of its program. Wahlert had played Western Dubuque, Independence and Cedar Rapids Prairie, complicating the situation since county health officials dictate responses and all three opponents were from different counties.

JUNE 22: In an interview with The Gazette, IHSAA assistant director and co-administrator of baseball Jared Chizek confirmed that five baseball teams had suspended their seasons due to COVID-19 cases by the end of the first week of play. Aplington-Parkersburg, Iowa Falls-Alden, Le Mars Gehlen and Woodbine joined Wahlert on that list.

JUNE 28: Cedar Falls becomes another MVC program suspended. Administrators confirmed that a member of the baseball team tested positive, causing a 14-day quarantine. The Tigers are expected to return for the postseason.

JULY 1: Western Dubuque’s season was abruptly halted. The Bobcats were pulled off the field in the middle of a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader at Cedar Rapids Washington. They were just three innings in with a 6-1 lead when Western Dubuque Coach Casey Bryant was told by school administration to stop play immediately due to potential COVID-19 exposure. At the time, Bryant told The Gazette that a varsity player was connected to a sophomore player, who had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the respiratory disease. Western Dubuque has yet to play again.

JULY 3: Linn-Mar becomes the first Metro team to cancel a home contest due to impending coronavirus test results. The Lions were supposed to host Iowa City West, but Linn-Mar Activities Director Dave Brown messaged The Gazette that “due to a possible but unconfirmed COVID-19 exposure” the game had been canceled. The Lions had also canceled a road game at Iowa City Liberty two days before and then returned, splitting Monday’s home doubleheader against Class 4A No. 8 Cedar Rapids Kennedy.

JULY 8: The biggest blow dealt by positive coronavirus tests landed, knocking out 4A top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling for the rest of the season. The Maroons were 16-2 after a state semifinal appearance last season. Dowling AD Tom Wilson said, “An individual in close contact with the varsity baseball team has tested positive for COVID-19,” and that the school was following Polk County guidelines. The process would extend into the postseason. Dowling’s substate position is replaced with a bye.

JULY 8: After multiple canceled games through July 7, Iowa City Regina’s baseball Twitter account messaged that despite “rumors” that circulated “No player or coach has tested positive” for the coronavirus. Regina’s last game was June 29 against North Cedar and the Regals aren’t expected to take the field until Tuesday’s district semifinal against Tipton at Camanche.

JULY 9: Postseason officially begins with a couple Class 1A district games.

JULY 9: On the heels of the softball program calling its season, North Tama became the first Gazette-area baseball program to end competition. The high school’s Twitter account announced that the team’s first-round district game against Belle Plaine was canceled and the season was done. According to the Marshalltown Times Republican, a player was directly exposed to COVID-19 and experienced symptoms. North Tama was 10-2 and was expected to host the first two rounds of district play. Those sites are now to be determined.

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JULY 10: Turkey Valley announced that its baseball season was over a day before its district game against Lansing Kee. According to the baseball program’s Twitter account, a player tested positive for COVID-19.

JULY 11: Postseason play resumes in 1A and begins for some 2A teams.

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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