Iowa’s Impressive Coronavirus Battle Plan

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

BOONE, Iowa. — Iowa was the only state that saw high school baseball played for an entire season in 2020. Every other state shut down high school baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protocol the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) utilized for players and coaches is filled with useful rules for every baseball playing state.

Only a small number of high school baseball players tested positive for COVID-19 during the past summer in Iowa despite thousands of games being played.

The exact number of players who tested positive is not known, but only 22 teams were asked to stop playing for a period of time. That factors in varsity, JV and freshmen teams.

There were no players or coaches hospitalized. Nobody was put on a ventilator, and no deaths took place to coaches or players, according to Todd Tharp, assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association.

He and Jared Chizek of the IHSAA oversaw the protocol plan through the June 15—Aug. 1 season.

Tharp said there are approximately 300 schools in Iowa that play high school baseball, and the teams average 15-20 players per squad. There were approximately 6,000 players and 900 coaches who were being protected with these protocols for every game during the season and playoffs.

“We didn’t have much time to put a protocol together,” said Tharp.

“Initially high school baseball in Iowa was suspended for two months because of COVID-19 concerns. Then on May 20, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced that summer athletic seasons could be conducted in high schools.

“Typically our high schools play a 40-game season. But because of this late start, our schools were only able to play over four weeks. I believe the most any team played in the regular season was 26 games. The majority of our varsity teams were able to play 15-20 games.

“We had roughly 7-10 days to put a protocol together, and that was a difficult challenge to accomplish. We needed to have conference calls with all of our athletics directors, coaches and umpires go to through all of the new protocols and procedures to keep everyone safe.

“With practices starting June 1 and games beginning June 15, we only had a short window of time to put everything together.

“We worked with our baseball advisory committee which resulted in many suggestions. Then we bounced some things off them. We brought in a few athletics directors to talk about their aspect of things. It was a real cumulative effort between our staff at the IHSAA, coaches, ADs and umpires.”

Tharp said what made it extremely difficult to come up with a protocol is that nobody had really come up with one yet that they could tap into.

“We were starting from scratch on what to do. It was definitely uncharted territory for all of us.

“The two things we learned from this whole situation was that you can’t put teenage kids in a bubble,” laughed Tharp.

“We are social creatures. Our coaches did a wonderful job of making sure all of the protocols were adhered to. Each school put kids into pods of 6-8 kids and separated the freshmen coaches from the JV and varsity coaches as well as teams.

“There were some coaches who were working 5-6 hours a day. The varsity would practice. Then they made sure all of the equipment was sanitized. Then the JV team would arrive for a couple of hours. Then equipment would once again be sanitized again.

“After that, the freshman team may have practiced. It made for some long days. I know of one coach who went down because of dehydration. He didn’t bring enough water for himself and was there for 5-6 hours.

“Kids by and large did a great job all summer at the baseball field. But they would still go home to parents who might have been at work all day and were exposed to someone who had COVID-19. They might have gotten in a car with someone who wasn’t a family member and didn’t have a mask on.

“Or they might have went to the pool, beach or whatever.”

Problem Develops
Tharp said one situation took place the IHSAA didn’t anticipate.

“Of the 99 counties in Iowa, each department of public health did their tracing or mitigation a little bit different. There were a lot of inconsistencies between counties. One county might say that if you have one case of COVID-19, they would shut down an entire program. Other counties might be able to do a little more contact tracing. They might just hold out two or three kids.

“Dealing with 99 health departments was a big ordeal for us. That was the biggest thing our staff at the IHSAA had to deal with because their rules and regulations were not consistent.”

To read about the extensive protocols that were put in place by the Iowa H.S. Athletic Association for baseball last summer, purchase the Oct. 2, 2020 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. The rest of the story explains how balls and equipment were sterilized, what the bus transportation plan was, who took temperatures, what happened when a player tested positive, hand sanitizers allowed, why nobody was allowed in dugouts during practices and why players and coaches after games never shook hands and simply gave a tip of the cap to opponents, plus much more.