It’s an uncertain path into uncharted territory.
Prep baseball and softball inherited the unenviable task of blazing a trail for others to follow — or avoid — for the return of post-pandemic team sports.
Many eyes will be on the high school summer sports as they begin practice throughout the state Monday, implementing new procedures and guidelines for safe participation. They will be the first activities since spring sports were wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From the administrators to the coaches, players and fans, the approach is we’re getting an opportunity here so we have to make sure we do everything the right way and that’s kind of the bottom line,” Cedar Rapids Xavier baseball coach Dan Halter said. “The situation is just going to be different this year. There’s no way around it.”
Guidelines have been disseminated to schools, activities directors and coaches. Most policies and their enforcement will be determined by individual school districts and county health officials. Coaches will have to share the burden of conveying those to players and parents and the execution.
“Honestly, we’re going to start practice with a long talk about how this summer is going to work,” North Linn baseball coach Travis Griffith said. “We’re going to attack it as if we’re guinea pigs, but we have to make this work.
“We can’t screw this up because then it will affect things down the road.”
Workouts will be drastically different from in the past. Players will have temperatures recorded before practice. If they register 100.4 degrees or higher they won’t be permitted to stay.
At Xavier, a trainer will greet players and take their temperature while they remain in their car. North Linn coaches will be in charge of that and immediately list the results in a Google doc. Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Scott Brune said a staff member will be on hand to administer tests.
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“Safety is the top priority,” Brune said. “It’s not just that way for us but across the state.”
Hygiene, disinfection and social distancing continue to be emphasized, including hand sanitizing and washing. Griffith said the prevailing thought is clean hands is the best way to keep surfaces safe. Players will have to bring their own hand sanitizer, in addition to sanitation stations schools provide.
Dugouts won’t be used for practices, allowing players and coaches the appropriate 6 feet of spacing. Players will wash hands and sanitize before practices. Drink breaks also will include sanitation.
“There’s going to be a lot more organizational things on coaches’ ends to make this work,” Griffith said. “There’s going to be some down time (during practice).
“Coaches are going to have to be responsible. We’ll have to guide them (players) on it. There are a lot less restrictions than I thought.”
Griffith said North Linn will assign a player to each pole along the first and third base fences. They are 8 feet apart, giving them plenty of room for their bags, equipment and water containers. Brune said players will be asked to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible.
Halter said coaches will have to devote additional time to sanitizing equipment like baseballs, screens and buckets, as some programs transition from varsity to lower-level practices.
The goal is to maximize time with players and protect everyone. This will likely be an evolving process with new guidelines and more efficient ideas. Communication between coaches, players and parents is crucial as well.
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“Every day is going to be a learning curve, figuring out what works, what doesn’t and what’s going to be most beneficial for the kids, keeping them safe while ensuring they still have fun and a positive experience,” Brune said. “I can’t envision what we do the first day will look like anything we do five days later or the next day.”
Griffith said his plans could vary, depending on the opening practice. His original plan is to split the team up for 15- to 20-minute stations with drinks and sanitizing between each one. Brune said he has considered limiting the number of players at the field to avoid clusters.
“Practices might look a little different,” Brune said. “I’ve thrown around bringing guys in shifts to my assistant coaches, so we’re not having masses congregating at once. It might be something we implement. More individual work instead of whole groups at once.”
Players are encouraged to bring their own equipment and discouraged from sharing anything from gloves to water bottles. Brune, Griffith, Halter and Linn-Mar’s Kyle Rodenkirk said they are not aware of players not going out due to the pandemic situation.
“We don’t want anybody doing something they’re uncomfortable with,” Halter said. “That level could vary from school to school, county to county.
“Ultimately, everybody has to understand this is a new situation for all. We don’t have other states or colleges that have played or come back. We are the first ones back in terms of a team sport. We have an opportunity here, so we have to do everything that is needed.”
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