Youth sports can begin ramping up for summer seasons thanks to Rhode Island’s move into Phase II of its reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the move last week, which gave the green light for sports to begin – with restrictions – on June 1.
“Because I have heard from a lot of you and I know in my life and my kids’ life, that physical activity is very, very important, we want to enable some sports this summer,” Raimondo said in a press conference. “In a few weeks, school will be over. Finish your work. Just because the sun is out, doesn’t mean you get to stop working. But when you’re finished with your school work, we want you to get back out there.”
Following CDC guidelines, the top-line restriction is to limit group sizes to 15, and to keep those groups stable. No league play or tournaments will be permitted; the hope is for that to come in Phase III, which is targeted for July. Essentially, leagues can have their players practicing, training and scrimmaging for possible league and tournament play down the road. It’s up to individual leagues to decide on whether to move forward and to then put plans in motion.
Regardless of what comes next, even just returning to the field to practice will be a positive step for those who have been waiting for an opportunity.
“My kids are excited, and I can’t blame them,” said Josh Rosen, president of South Kingstown Little League. “It’s a good feeling to know that it’s finally going to happen.”
South Kingstown Little League and its neighbors at Narragansett and North Kingstown/Wickford are planning to get their players back on the field in the very near future. Narragansett’s board asked parents to complete an online survey to determine interest and desire to play, and announced on Monday that the board has voted to pursue a season. North Kingstown/Wickford president Arnie Sarazen wrote on Facebook, “As you know, we received some encouraging news from the Governor this week regarding youth sports in RI. Phase 2 begins June 1st and will allow groups of 15 people or fewer to get together, with restrictions, to practice or work out. NKWLL is embracing this news and actively putting together our program to start playing baseball again.”
South Kingstown put a plan together from CDC guidelines, conversations with town leaders and observations of other leagues around the country that opened earlier. It includes activewear face coverings that the league has purchased for each player, the limiting of shared equipment, spaced out practice times, drop-off restrictions for parents and use of hand sanitizer, which has been purchased by the league. The summer season will be for the minors, majors, junior and senior divisions of the league, for both baseball and softball. The board determined the restrictions would create too many challenges for younger age groups.
“It’s been a lot of work from the board members and our volunteers, and we thank them for that. At some point in April, when it seemed there would be a certain point when the economy and the state could reopen, we started to put some ideas together that would align us with the structure of the plan that the governor had,” Rosen said. “The league presidents in District 3 started bouncing ideas off each other. What can we do when we return to play to make it a safe return? How can we comply with the guidelines that we’re seeing? From there, I was able to go to the board at our own Little League and say, we still need to advocate for the kids, and to the parents, say we’re optimistic that we can play because we have this plan.”
The league also counts itself lucky to have facilities that work for its plan.
“From the beginning, we realized we’re pretty lucky,” Rosen said. “Our field space and our facilities are conducive to run our program in an environment that’s safe. It’s not like we were dealing with conditions at the field, or space issues that would make it tough to run. That wasn’t an obstacle. We had things in our favor and I think the board saw that.
While Little Leagues are used to extending their spring seasons into summer with all-star and tournament play, other spring sports are typically winding down their seasons by now. Both North Kingstown Youth Lacrosse and South County Youth Lacrosse canceled their spring seasons in alignment with Rhode Island Youth Lacrosse’s cancellation. Summer options are being discussed now, though there are challenges. With more than a dozen teams and limited field space, North Kingstown Youth Lacrosse wouldn’t be able to give teams any significant practice time, said league president Devin O’Rourke.
“That’s not really in the scope of our play,” O’Rourke said. “We can’t have 13 teams out there. What are you going to have one practice every two weeks? So we closed it down. We’re lucky that we have an August camp and winter skills. So we have some near-term things to look forward to.”
O’Rourke said a few teams may get together for a couple of practices a week in June, with scrimmages against other leagues a possibility in July. Jerry Bonner, president of South County Youth Lacrosse, said the organization is discussing the possibility of sanctioning practices in June and is putting a plan together to submit to the town of South Kingstown. State organizations were set to have a conference call this week to discuss options.
For every sport, throughout the process, the focus has been on finding ways to give kids every opportunity that would be available to them, if at all possible.
“That was the primary push. Everybody that’s involved in our league, they all love baseball and love seeing the kids play and want to give them chance. Every decision we make, our board always has that in mind,” Rosen said. “I think everybody realized the effect of the lack of organized sports on some of these kids and what they need mentally, physically, emotionally from something like this. I think the thought of going through the summer, another two or three months of not having it – after three months of being down – is kind of what led the board to be open-minded and willing to stick with it.”
South Kingstown Little League is hoping to have practices at Tuckertown Park beginning this weekend. The scenes that will play out there will be a welcome sight.
“I feel great about this because I’m anxious to see kids running outside, playing baseball, playing soccer, playing sports,” Raimondo said. “And I’m very hopeful that come the first of July, we’re going to be able to allow league sports and tournament sports that I know you’re used to. And I would encourage you all to do this, by the way. Get outside, play, it’ll help you with your physical and mental health and get us back to a sense of normalcy, which I think everybody needs and wants.”