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Across the country, high school athletes are itching to get back on the field, on the court and on the track. Well, in Iowa, baseball and softball players have been competing since June. It was the first state to resume competitive high school sports. But as Katie Peikes of Iowa Public Radio reports, the effort has hit some significant bumps.
KATIE PEIKES, BYLINE: It's a warm and humid summer night in Correctionville, a small rural town in western Iowa. Girls and boys are playing softball and baseball. Families have spaced out on the bleachers. Some crowd behind the fence at home plate in lawn chairs.
PEIKES: Nicole Goodwin is standing between the softball field and the adjacent baseball field, keeping an eye on both games.
NICOLE GOODWIN: We're healthy and trying to stay safe with everybody. And that's - right now is what your main goal is as a parent, as a player, as a coach and as an athletic director and stuff.
PEIKES: Goodwin is the high school athletic director for the Kingsley-Pierson School District. She says they've had a great start to a shorter summer season, though they did have a recent scare that some of their players had possibly been exposed to COVID-19.
GOODWIN: They got tested at some of the test sites. And they came back - I think it was within 48 hours. It was really - and really quick, and they were all negative.
PEIKES: Across the state, schools are taking extra precautions to monitor the health of players and coaches. The state's department of education put out guidance for summer sports - things like players and coaches taking their temperatures before practice and games. But these are just suggestions, not mandates. And then there are the little things. Players like Austin Holtz can't spit sunflower seed shells anymore.
AUSTIN HOLTZ: I enjoy my sunflower seeds while I'm chilling out in center field or chilling at shortstop. But other than that, I think everything's fair.
PEIKES: Over in Cedar Falls, two varsity athletes recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the athletic director ended the junior varsity softball season. He expressed concerns about cross-contamination between teams. The varsity teams have been quarantining, but they start practicing again on Thursday. Roni Steffener plays first base on a team that had a positive COVID test and has been in quarantine.
RONI STEFFENER: It was, like, right in the midst of our season, and we were actually starting to feel, you know, like a family when we were on the field with each other. And that was really, really tough.
PEIKES: At least 20 baseball and softball teams have had to go into quarantine and suspend their seasons because of COVID-19. And so far, seven of them have ended their seasons early. Various others have rescheduled games over concerns about a possible exposure to the virus. Cedar Falls varsity baseball coach Brett Williams says he wanted a sense of normalcy for the players but also warned them there are risks.
BRETT WILLIAMS: And that's something that you have to determine as an individual and as a family. Are you willing to take that risk?
PEIKES: Despite hundreds of new daily COVID-19 cases, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds allowed high school baseball and softball to start practicing June 1. Sarah Laaser-Webb's son Darryl plays on a team in Ames. She says when she heard the governor's announcement, she had an immediate reaction.
SARAH LAASER-WEBB: Kind of sick to my stomach, actually (laughter).
PEIKES: Laaser-Webb says to her it felt too soon, but she let her son play because it's his senior year.
LAASER-WEBB: We're taking precautions at home. When you get home, you walk straight in and take showers. And we're just doing the best we can.
PEIKES: Health officials call baseball and softball low-contact sports, especially when compared to football. And it's obvious teens are itching to get back to normal activities after missing spring sports. The question is whether they can do it safely.
For NPR News, I'm Katie Peikes in Correctionville, Iowa.
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