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Social distancing will be a critical part of the equation when Iowa high school baseball and softball begins this month. Teams were allowed to begin practice June 1, with games slated to begin June 15.

Iowa’s high school athletic associations issued a clarification on new guidelines May 26, but left most decisions up to local authorities while one major question still remains unanswered.

Also May 26, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced further loosening of restrictions related to sports.

A proclamation signed by Reynolds May 26 allows mass gatherings, including sporting events, to allow more than 10 spectators, but only if certain guidelines are followed. The proclamation also lifted bans on youth sports and other individual recreational activities beginning in June.

“Lifting this restriction means extended families and friends can gather together, but that privilege comes with the responsibility of ensuring you’re doing the right thing to protect your health and the health of the people you care about,” Reynolds said at her press briefing May 26 in Johnston.

The proclamation outlined guidelines for organizers to follow when June began.

Outdoor venues with permanent seating must limit capacity to 50% while other outdoor venues must limit admission to a number of spectators that allows for social distancing between each group or individual. Capacity in indoor venues must be limited to 50%. The organizer shall also implement reasonable measures to ensure social distancing, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But even that should be welcome news to sports fans jonesing for live-action.

“It’s amazing how big a loss sports is — not only just those of us who compete, but also just for entertainment value,” Western Dubuque baseball coach Casey Bryant said after last week’s announcement that summer sports could return. “Culturally, (sports are) here to stay. Sports are a part of us and having it be gone for this period of time has definitely been hard on a lot of people.”

Practices, games and competitions for non-school sporting activities — including baseball, softball, running, biking, swimming, tennis and golf — resumed June 1. Organizers still must ensure physical distancing of 6 feet, increased hygiene practices and other measures to reduce the spread.

School sports that are not currently in season are not allowed in-person contact with coaches until July 1.

For the state’s high school softball and baseball teams, practice began June 1 with the first games June 15. Middle school baseball and softball is still prohibited.

School districts that decide not to sponsor summer teams must notify Iowa High School Athletic Association Executive Director Tom Keating for baseball or Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Executive Director Jean Berger for softball in writing prior to June 8.

School districts and county or state health departments can still cancel their season at any time if there are concerns about a high rate of infections.

If a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19, the local school district is in charge of contacting the county’s public health department, which will then provide guidance for contacting opponents who may have been exposed.

If the Department of Public Health advises either school that a game should not be played, it will be considered a no contest. It will be counted as a forfeit if one school decides on its own not to play.

The National Federation of High Schools Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommends that coaches conduct workouts in pods of 5-10 players with the same players always working out together.

That could complicate things for coaches as they try to sort out which players belong on varsity and which will play junior varsity.

Teams aren’t allowed to use dugouts for practice but are for games. Players are expected to spread out as much as possible in the dugout unless they are actively participating in the game. NFHS rules allow dugouts and media areas to be extended down the foul lines, but outside of the playing area. Only essential personnel — players, coaches, trainers and umpires — are allowed in the dugouts.

Children responsible for retrieving balls and bats are not allowed in the dugout, nor are managers, statisticians, pitch count designees and media. Bleachers may be placed behind the dugout for additional team personnel.

Concession stands are prohibited and players are required to provide their own hydration. Players, coaches and umpires are not required to wear masks but may do so if desired. Plastic face shields are prohibited.

A lack of concession stands puts an additional onus on the players to be prepared for long game days. Many times, players will hit the concession stand for a burger or hot dog between games.

Each school will be responsible for determining the capacity for its facilities, including public restroom capacity.

The school’s weight room is still off-limits, although it is permissible for weight-room equipment to be moved to the baseball or softball facility to be accessible to student-athletes.

Gymnasiums can be used in lieu of the regular fields in case of inclement weather. Teams can also use turf fields at any time, although social distancing must still be observed.

The major remaining question is transportation for away games. Teams are expected to utilize social distancing for practices and games, but doing so on a single bus for an hour or more wouldn’t be possible.