OTTUMWA — The most unique month of June for Iowa High School softball teams is about to come to a close.
Starting Wednesday, one more month remains on a season that didn’t look like it would happen. With sights set on playing for the Class 5A state championship on the very last day of July, Ottumwa head coach Mandi Moore feels the 10th-ranked Bulldogs have truly adapted to the new normals of a season being played in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The kids are starting to really get rolling with the season,” Moore said Monday night after Ottumwa swept Des Moines East, 12-0 and 13-3, to open CIML Metro conference play at Huston Field. “I think you’re going to see us keep rolling and keep picking up some more wins along the way.
“I think you haven’t seen the most yet from our team. Keep watching.”
The Bulldogs, however, were reminded prior to Monday’s doubleheader with East just how fragile this season could be for all high school softball and baseball teams across the state. Ottumwa learned Monday morning that Thursday’s scheduled Metro doubleheader with Des Moines Lincoln has been cancelled as the Railsplitters announced three members of the team had tested positive for COVID-19.
Lincoln activities director Phil Chia stated in an email to parents that athletic directors with their most recent opponents, including Ottumwa, had been contacted about the news. The positive results will force the team into quarantine for 14 days during which time Lincoln softball will not be participating in freshman, junior varsity of varsity games and practices.
The soonest Lincoln can resume action is on July 9, just one week ahead of the opening night for Class 5A regional tournament softball. Any further positive COVID-19 testing results could lead to a later resumption for the Railsplitters or, perhaps, no resumption at all with just one month left in the season.
“It’s something that is eye-opening and something that makes you realize you need to be as cautious as possible,” Moore said. “You need to keep the kids as safe as possible. Continue to social distance. Make sure they’re washing their hands. It’s an eye-opener and a reminder for everyone in the conference.”
Lincoln is the first Des Moines Public Schools team to have its season interrupted due to COVID-19, according to district spokesperson Phil Roeder. Two other members of the Lincoln softball program also tested positive over the weekend.
The Des Moines Public School district, which was the first in the state to officially announce the cancellation of all spring activities due to the coronavirus back in April, have pressed forward with summer sports for all schools (East, Lincoln, Hoover, North, Roosevelt). All games held at those schools will feature limited seating and closed concession stands, much like OHS, with the added guideline that all spectators attending games will be required to wear face masks.
“This is a small step to re-engage some students with school and resume some level of our activities, but it is a step that we must all be very careful in taking,” said Dr. Thomas Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and resuming part of the baseball and softball season is not a sign that it’s going to be business as usual now or in the near future.
“As DMPS works on our plan to return to learning next school year, it’s clear that many aspects of school will be different in the months ahead as we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Only the Lincoln softball team has been impacted by COVID-19. Des Moines Lincoln’s baseball team is still scheduled to travel to Ottumwa for a varsity doubleheader on Thursday starting at 5 p.m.
In the meantime, both the Ottumwa softball and baseball teams will make their first trip to a Des Moines Public School on Wednesday as both teams take on Des Moines Roosevelt in varsity doubleheaders. It will be the first trip for any Ottumwa team to the DMPS district since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“You take caution and you make sure the girls sanitize as much as possible,” Moore said. “We probably won’t be making any pit stops. We’ll probably go straight to the school and straight home afterwards. We’re probably going to avoid making any food or gas station stops just to be on the safe side.”