Iowa school officials: High school baseball and softball teams play it safe, fans less so

Iowa school officials: High school baseball and softball teams play it safe, fans less so

North vs Heelan baseball 061620

North's Tyler Kjose hits the ball during Sioux City North vs Heelan baseball action played Tuesday, June, 16, 2020, at North High School. Kjose is also the team's ace.

DES MOINES — The coaches and high school student-athletes playing baseball and softball across Iowa are doing their best to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, state athletic association officials say.

The fans who are attending those games, on the other hand, are not always as cooperative in practicing social distancing.

Iowa is believed to be the first state where high school student-athletes resumed athletic competition. The state’s summer baseball and softball seasons resumed with practices on June 1 and games on June 15.

Roughly a week into the season, at least a half-dozen Iowa high school baseball and softball teams have experienced disruptions due to players or coaches contracting the new coronavirus, state association officials confirmed.

None of the five cases involving baseball teams have been traced back to games or practices, said Jared Chizek with the Iowa High School Athletics Association.

Chizek said while coaches, players and umpires are doing their best to adhere to the recommended safety protocols established by the state public health department, some school officials have told him fans are not always as cooperative.

“The biggest concern that we’re hearing from athletic directors and school administrators is there’s a lot of interest right now in baseball across the state. It’s the first live entertainment since state basketball,” said Chizek, who said he attended multiple games across the state this past week. “There’s a lot of excitement. But it’s also troublesome for some of our athletic administrators and school administrators as they continue to stress social distancing at these games.”

Chizek said some school officials have expressed concerns that fans are not adhering to recommended social distancing. Fans are sitting close to one another, either in the bleachers or in personal lawn chairs.

According to guidance provided by the state public health and education departments, schools must:

--- limit the use of bleachers for fans

--- encourage fans to bring their own chairs or stand

--- practice social distancing between different household units and accept personal responsibility for public health guidelines.

Chizek said it’s difficult for school officials to police fan activity.

“As one athletic director who reached out said, with nothing else going on, how do you stop two people who are good friends from sitting next to each other,” Chizek said.

The state guidance does not make any recommendation that fans wear a mask or other face covering. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. But some health experts have said the risk of the virus spreading outdoors is lower.

Jean Berger, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, said the decision to allow summer baseball and softball was “polarizing,” in that parents and others had strong feelings — both for and against — about whether the seasons should take place this summer.

She said only three districts decided not to field a softball team, and the ones that are playing indicated a willingness to take whatever precautionary steps were necessary.

“The people who wanted to play, they were going to do whatever they thought they needed to play,” Berger said. “They were willing to do whatever.”

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