Iowa high school baseball, softball teams grateful for season despite obstacles

As postseason play begins, coaches remain optimistic about the ability to finish the season.


Hannah Kinson

A softball field is seen on Saturday, June 13 at West High School in Iowa City.

Jordan Winke, Sports Reporter

When Iowa became the only state to allow high school baseball and softball to resume in June amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation watched.

Some saw it as a much-needed step toward normalcy, while others saw it as a premature and unsafe decision. As with any navigation through uncharted waters, the return to sports has had its obstacles.

“I’m not going to say it hasn’t had some challenges,” said Jeff Kelley, head softball coach at Liberty High School.

Teams have had to social distance, which is difficult as the nature of sports often requires physical contact. Balls and equipment need to be regularly sanitized. Any team member who has had possible exposure to COVID-19 is required to self-quarantine for 14 days, and if a team member tests positive, the whole team must quarantine. As 4A and 5A regional play for softball starts, a positive case would mean the end of the season.

So far, the Liberty softball team has not had any positive cases and is set to play Cedar Rapids Prairie in the 5A region seven semifinal on July 18.

Charles Stumpff, the Iowa City West high school baseball coach, also feels grateful for the result of their season to this point.

“I believe it’s gone OK for us,” Stumpff said. “We haven’t had any incidents and any time you don’t have any, you feel fortunate.”

Stumpff pointed out that it’s easier to social distance while playing baseball than many other sports, since it is played outside and generally spread out across the field. He has been trying to make sure his team doesn’t get too comfortable and let up on its social distancing efforts.

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Teams practice for a couple of hours a day, but it is what the athletes are doing after they leave that will make the difference between being able to finish their season or not, Stumpff said.

West High School is scheduled to play Linn-Mar in the 4A sub-state first round game on July 17.

The feedback both coaches have received from parents and players about the unconventional season has been mostly positive.

Kelley said he feels thankful to have had the opportunity, noting that there are several players around the country who would love to be in his players’ shoes right now.

Parents and fans want to see things go back to normal as much as possible, and the resumption of play is seen as a step forward, he said. It also allows the two Liberty senior players the chance to have their last season in the wake of losing many of the festivities and celebrations that are normally associated with senior year.

“If we’re done tomorrow, at least we played,” Kelley said.

The West High baseball players are also appreciative of the opportunity. Stumpff described the senior class as a mature and bright group who are excited to play with their friends for one last year.

Softball or baseball is the last organized activity senior students get to do in high school. The players got to experience what it was like to not have the sport and realized that it is not something that should be taken for granted.

The summer sports are not a great indicator of the feasibility of fall sports due to the completely different circumstances that the school year brings.

Stumpff noted that it has worked out for them because the players are not in school, so it is easier to socially distance from others. The baseball team is a small percentage of the whole school, and indoor sports such as volleyball would be much more difficult to safely execute.

“You can’t control who you’re around at school,” said Kelley. “Having to shut down the whole team every time a player tests positive would make fall sports very difficult to manage.”

West High School’s classes will be online for at least the first month of the school year, and that could be advantageous for sports teams. It would be easier to monitor who the players are around and keep them quarantined, resulting in a model more similar to how softball and baseball are operating now.

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