Prep Sports

Iowa's high school summer sports season is a work in progress

Players clearly want to play, and COVID-19 isn't backing down

Action during Thursday night's Springville-Central City prep softball doubleheader at Central City High School. (Mike Hl
Action during Thursday night’s Springville-Central City prep softball doubleheader at Central City High School. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
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CENTRAL CITY — How is the playing of high school softball and baseball games in Iowa going in this summer of COVID-19?

We don’t fully know yet. One week is done. A total of about 500 teams got back on the diamonds, a couple weeks later than every other year.

Will the first competitive, sanctioned team sports in the U.S. since mid-March be an unqualified success? It’s too soon to tell. The coronavirus is durable, and certainly is nothing warm weather has been able to conquer.

The baseball teams of Dubuque Wahlert, Iowa Falls-Alden and Le Mars Gehlen have stopped play for 14 days after each had a player test positive last week for the illness.

“We may be one of the early schools impacted by this, but I highly doubt we will be the last,” Iowa Falls-Alden Athletics Director Pat Norem told the Des Moines Reigster in an email.

The vast majority of Iowa’s prep teams are pushing through for now, knowing this was going to be risky business. The guidelines are many. No shared fountains or coolers. No spitting sunflower seeds. Using sanitizing wipes after contact with shared equipment. Sanitizing before and after every at-bat, and when going out and coming back from the field.

Still, the games are what they are, and players, coaches and umpires will be near each other.

I went to Central City Thursday night for its softball and baseball doubleheaders against Springville, with the diamonds separated by the Wildcats’ football field. It felt kind of strange, kind of good.

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The strange part was the pregame instructions to the fans. Don’t touch foul balls, there are donation boxes in lieu of people taking money for admission, people who aren’t related should sit more than 6 feet apart.

Teams have switched from high-fives to bumping elbows, or air high-fives.

The small bleacher sections behind home plate at both diamonds were roped off. The spectators ringed the fences with folding chairs, which was probably already the seat of choice here. Some sat close together. Whether those people also were related, I have no idea. I wasn’t going to get near enough anyone to ask.

Players are supposed to spread out in dugouts, but how spread out can they really get there and during plays? Fans aren’t required to wear masks, and I didn’t see one who did.

The good part was there was ball being played, and quite a few people from Springville and Central City to enjoy it on a warm, breezy night that we pine for in winter.

The two Linn County towns 16 miles apart have been competing against each other in high school sports for the better part of a century, and have been members of the Tri-Rivers Conference since it formed in 1967. Orioles and Wildcats. Normalcy.

Central City’s Natalie Noonan socked a long double in the bottom of the seventh inning of the first softball game to break a 2-2 tie and give her team the victory. It seemed to take a few moments for her and her teammates to realize it was a game-winner, then they celebrated.

Springville got an 11-7 win in the second game.

The two baseball teams played the tightest game you’ll ever see that was decided by eight runs. Game 1 was 4-4 and pushed to extra innings. In the ninth, Springville scored 10 runs and went on to win, 14-6. It also claimed the nightcap — a true nightcap since the 5 p.m. opener lasted three hours — 16-3.

In the first game, Central City center fielder Wezley Luedeman took a header into the outfield fence in a diving attempt at making a catch.

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He was down on the warning track for a little while, but passed all the trainer’s tests when he was told to count backward from 100 by threes, and when he was asked where he was and what he was doing there.

Playing baseball in his hometown is what he was doing there. Luedeman got back on his feet, and got a hit later in the game.

The state and the Iowa High School Athletic Association have let him play. He’s going to play.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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