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Youth Baseball Makes Post-Lockdown Debut

12 May, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Play ball…carefully.

That was the message in St. Louis over the weekend where a youth baseball game took place. And yes, social distancing was involved.

Sort of.

“I think we did our best, for having 12-year-old boys who don’t always listen,” one of the parents, Kathy Tierney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

While teams involved in the tournament had fun, there were distinct signs that the youth sports industry had yet to re-establish its equilibrium. The tournament usually garners entries from about 180 teams, but only about 50 teams ended up playing. (To be fair, the weather wasn’t conducive; some of the fields that were to be used had suffered under heavy spring rains and were unplayable).

Something that helped with social distancing was the use of plastic zippered pods, which several parents had purchased in order to create their own personal space. Most were made by the brand Under the Weather and were originally designed for watching sports in inclement conditions.

With or without living in a plastic bubble, however, there are signs the youth sports economy is starting to rebound; however, its comeback is going to be far slower than that of adult sports – which seem to be targeting a late summer and early fall return. Even MLB has announced some plans. But on the youth level, at least a few organizations are dipping a toe back into the waters of competitive play.

The 2020 Ferguson North American Sand Soccer Championships, originally planned for June, have been rescheduled for August 7-9. And The Association of Collegiate Anglers, though not technically a youth-sports event, is still targeting May 21-22 (yes, 2020) for the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship on Pickwick Lake in Alabama. 

AAU is forging ahead with a number of youth sports events to be held this summer-- although it has postponed its traditional Memorial Day weekend basketball championship in Orlando. Other events, however, begin in June. A message from Roger Goudy, AAU president, on the website, noted that as of May 1, AAU would reopen its scheduling, and only in areas where and when it has been deemed safe to do so.   In order to resume AAU event programming in a particular area of the country, all guidelines – federal, state, county and local guidelines had to be met, along with facility protocols and any applicable CDC recommendations. The AAU also sets its own requirements.

Other signs that sports are considering their options are also being seen. Little League Baseball, after cancelling its long-running World Series for the 2020 season, has published “resumption of play” guidelines on its website. US Youth Soccer, however, has pressed the Pause button on its Regional and National play, noting that it will revisit the issue after May 15. In Nebraska, officials have noted that as of June 1, some activities will resume.

High school sports, of course, have not returned (and likely will not, with states increasingly closing all schools for the remainder of the year). The National Federation of State High School Associations has noted that the resumption of sports at the high school level will depend upon the duration of the pandemic and its resultant social distancing restrictions. One aspect that is likely to be a casualty of COVID-19 – but more in the way of being part of a domino effect – is students’ ability to see a pediatrician for their preparticipation physical evaluation, required in all 50 states and D.C. before  students can enroll in sports programs. (Ironically this is known as a PPE, as is personal protective equipment, meaning masks, gloves and other garments). Because there will likely be a backlog of patients waiting for these exams, as well as other general wellness visits, NFHS is recommending a one-year extension for any student who has a PPE that “expires” before or during the 2020-21 academic year.

Going beyond youth sports, however, is, of course, college ball. And while everyone is anxious for a return to college football, the NCAA’s Mark Emmert has noted that unless students are physically living on campus and attending classes in person (as opposed to an online format), the NCAA will not allow college sports to begin.

Much of the youth tournament industry, however, is driven by travel and spectatorship – and put together, those add another layer of complexity. And it may be that a large percentage of parents are hesitant to enroll their children in youth tournaments altogether until a combination of factors comes into place including a nationwide flattening of the incidence of COVID-19 cases, the relaxation of social distancing guidelines and PPE use, and the development of a vaccine.

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