Casey Bryant expected an announcement that the baseball season would be allowed to begin.
The Western Dubuque coach just didn’t expect it to come this week.
That didn’t temper any of his excitement from Wednesday’s joint announcement from the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union that officially gave the green light to a June 1 start for the baseball and softball seasons.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had given the OK for the athletic associations to resume, but left the final decision up to them.
“I’ve been hopeful and kind of an optimist about it and I was expecting it to happen, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen yesterday,” Bryant said Thursday, adding that the timing was definitely beneficial. “We have 10 days to make plans and figure out how we can do this safely and take some safety precautions for kids, plus just the normal organization of putting on a season.”
The Iowa Department of Education, along with the Iowa Department of Public Health, unveiled a set of guidelines on Wednesday for teams to follow in opening their facilities and conducting practices and games — including enforced social distancing, closing off bleachers, not using dugouts for practices and athletes using their own equipment where possible.
These guidelines apply only to high school teams, Iowa Department of Education Executive Director Dr. Ann Lebo said at Reynolds’ press briefing Thursday in Johnston. Previous guidelines suspending play for youth teams still apply, though Reynolds said she expects to make an announcement next week about their restart.
“As the only state to offer summer interscholastic baseball and softball, Iowa is leading the nation and we are confident that our coaches, parents and players will make this a success,” Lebo said. “The ability to have a summer sports season is a great way for our students and communities to start finding a way forward, and there has been a general outpouring of gratitude for this decision throughout the state. … I’m excited for what this summer will mean for our schools and families in Iowa.”
Eben Baumhover, a Western Dubuque graduate and the co-head coach of reigning Class 2A state champion Van Meter, joined Gov. Reynolds via videoconference at Thursday’s briefing.
“When this announcement was made yesterday, it was a relief. The weight had been lifted and all the uncertainty of ‘will we play’ was put to rest,” Baumhover said. “Our boys have been patient and they’ve endured a lot throughout this uncertain time, just as we all have. Now it’s their chance to get back out there and just feel some normalcy again, and there’s no better place to begin that than summer nights at the ball diamond.”
The timing of the announcement gives coaches a jumpstart on re-preparing for the season.
Bryant said that before the lockdown occurred, he had the team’s schedules for weight-lifting, practice, transportation and games already taken care of.
“All that is thrown away because the schedules have all changed,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that the coaches did have done is useless or they’re basically starting from scratch. But we have to really re-examine everything that we do and make sure that we’re able to do it safely.”
There are still plenty of questions about what the season and even practice will look like.
Out-of-season high school teams are not allowed to use the school’s weight rooms until at least July 1, Lebo said. It has not yet been made clear if baseball and softball teams will be able to use the weight rooms during their seasons.
“I’m sure there’s people a lot smarter than me figuring that out right now along with the Department of Public Health, and once they figure it out, we’ll do our best to follow it to a T,” Bryant said.
Wahlert softball coach Ashley Cullen is curious to know about limits for the number of players allowed at practice. Will the teams be allowed to get on a bus to games or will they need to split into separate vehicles?
“What happens if one player or one coach tests positive?” Cullen said. “As of the standards they released, if you’re in close contact you have to quarantine for 14 days. So if one person on varsity were to test positive, you wouldn’t be able to play for two weeks.”
Some programs, though, may need to adapt to lower numbers than they may have had before the pandemic.
“There’s going to be players that aren’t going to feel comfortable. There are parents that aren’t going to feel comfortable with their kid playing,” Cullen said. “You obviously can’t hold that against anybody. That’s their own personal philosophy, and if I had any kind of a medical issue, I would be hesitant also.”
The IHSAA and IGHSAU are expected to release a list of answers to frequently asked questions on Tuesday.
There definitely appears to be a desire to resume, though.
After Wednesday’s announcement, Bryant sent out a survey to families of the 90 players in the Bobcats’ program, trying to see how many players would be able to supply their own bats and helmets. Within an hour, he had 60 responses. All of them mentioned how excited they were for the season to start.
“To get 60 that fast was really an indicator to me that a strong majority of people are ready to move on,” he said. “Just to have something positive happening that looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel is really important.”