Local youth sports organizations are preparing to return to the fields and ballparks on June 1 following a decision from state leaders to allow sporting events and practices to resume.
Youth leagues were among those shut down by the state as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
“We’re going to take the recommendations from the state and other recommendations and blend them together,” said City of Laurens Parks and Recreation Director Jason Pridgen. “We want to try and be as safe as possible and at the same time give the kids a chance to have fun and play ball.”
Pridgen said he expects 80-85% of the players – about 120 – on the city’s 12 Little League rosters to return for the season.
The Dixie Youth program run by the Clinton YMCA includes 34 teams, including several from nearby Whitmire, and about 325 players that will be hitting the field on June 1 for practices and resuming a season that got underway with practices in February before COVID-19 shut everything down.
“We were really concerned and still are as to whether we should do this,” said Gene Simmons, executive director of the Clinton YMCA. “But most of the parents want their kids to have some sense of normalcy with everything so topsy-turvy in this new world.”
The Dixie Youth teams had held photo days and had a few practices, which had been extended another week due to heavy rains in the area in late February and early March.
Simmons said he hopes for a season that will last five or six weeks. After that, it is unclear whether postseason play will be possible.
Both Pridgen and Simmons said their organizations will work to enforce social distancing per guidelines from the state.
Simmons said volunteers will be stationed at every ballpark to help with sanitization, crowd control and any other issues.
Even the postgame handshake will be excluded this season.
“The kids can’t high-five one another or handshake in the line after the games. They’ll just say good game,” Simmons said. “They won’t be allowed to spit or chew sunflower seeds or anything like that.”
The players will also be asked to keep their distance as much as possible in their respective dugouts.
Parents and supporters will also be asked to conduct themselves differently with no post-game socialization, Simmons said.
“We want to keep people spaced out at least six-feet apart all the way around the ballpark,” Pridgen said.
Simmons said the response to changes resulting from COVID-19 have been successful at the Clinton YMCA, and that makes him hopeful that similar changes at the ballpark will be taken in stride.
“There will be new stipulations this year, and we’re trying to do the best we can with them,” Simmons said. “If what our Y members have done is any indication, they’ve been very good at following our new guidelines. I think people will be with this, too. I think they want to see their kids play.”