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May, 2020

After coronavirus hiatus, youth sports get go-ahead under strict conditions

By: Jared Peck, Lexington Herald-Leader

Youth sports will be able to resume small-group practices on June 15 with strict restrictions, while scrimmages and games will be phased in beginning June 29, according to guidelines announced during Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily coronavirus update session on Friday.

Those practices can involve groups of 10 players or fewer with a limit of one coach per group so long as the players maintain social distancing guidelines and involve no competition like scrimmages, the guidelines state. What types of activities can be done at practices depends on what type of sport is involved.

“Practices are limited to socially distanced, no touch, low sharing, skills training, unless necessary to protect the health or safety of a youth participant,” the guidance states. “Multiple groups may practice but must adhere to the social distancing guidelines … . Any individual not essential for the conduct of these practices should not attend.”

The guidance also prescribes social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting requirements and calls for health screening of coaches, officials, staff and youth athletes “safely and respectfully to the greatest extent practicable” using examples from the CDC’s guidelines for child care programs and businesses.

In addition, the guidance classifies several sports as follows:

  • Low touch, outdoor youth sports and activities: track and field, biking, tennis, golf, mini-golf, horseback riding, cross country, and baseball/softball/teeball.

  • Low touch, indoor youth sports and athletic activities: gymnastics, swimming, diving, bowling, solo-dance/solo-ballet, tap-dance, and archery.

  • High touch, indoor youth sports and athletic activities: karate/martial arts, basketball, cheerleading, tandem or team dance, ice hockey, volleyball, fencing and wrestling

  • High touch, outdoor youth sports and athletic activities: football, soccer, lacrosse, flag football and field hockey.

The state will allow low touch indoor and outdoor activities — the groups including baseball and swimming — to begin having competitions on June 29 with up to 50 spectators. However, travel outside the “local community” for scrimmages, games or tournaments remain prohibited under these rules, a measure that will impact club and all-star teams.

Also on June 29, the high touch indoor and outdoor sports that include football, basketball, soccer and volleyball can resume practices without competition. All team/group practices are limited to 50 youths or fewer. The guidelines do not address when these “high touch sports” can begin playing games.

Friday’s guidance also does not specifically address high school athletes, designating them to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, which is expected to have a discussion among its board members next week about how it will move forward.

In neighboring Ohio, state officials announced Thursday that athletics training and conditioning for all sports, including high schools can begin May 26 with proper social distancing and cleaning guidelines, but it specified games, scrimmages and tournaments remain prohibited.

Other states have made similar announcements. The state of Florida has even begun allowing multi-team tournaments. And the Southeastern Conference on Friday decided to allow its members open athletics facilities on June 8, although the University of Kentucky said Friday that it will work with state and local officials on its own reopening plan.

In the two weeks since Gov. Andy Beshear’s pandemic guidance first stated it would allow “youth Sports: low touch and outdoors” beginning on June 15, local leagues have been scrambling to understand and plan for what that might mean for their players. Most did not believe it would mean they could begin playing games on June 15 and likely wouldn’t have set schedules to do so, regardless.

“From a mental standpoint, trust me, (the kids are) ready. From a physical standpoint, they’ll need a little bit of time so we can prevent injuries,” Nick Williams, an Eastern Little League coach and board member, said last week. “In the littler leagues it it’s not as big of a worry. Their arms are still really pliable and it’s hard to hurt ‘em. But in the upper leagues, especially as kids get older … I think a week or two, realistically, of just a regular throwing routine (will help prevent injuries).

This would be the only season Williams’ 9-year-old Cooper and 12-year-old Tucker can play on the same team.

“I wouldn’t want to put a kid out there Day 1, and say, ‘play ball’ because the risk of injury is higher,” Williams said. “But a week or two (of practice)? … I’d be comfortable with a week or two with my boys.”

Lexington has several youth sports leagues and officials contacted said they have been meeting almost weekly to discuss how they will deal with state guidelines.

Local baseball and softball youth leagues were on the verge of beginning their seasons in March when all sports at all levels across the nation shut down due to the pandemic. Tryouts were held in February, teams were formed and many had ordered uniforms.

“Honestly, we did the hardest part of the season where it was getting the teams done (formed), Bluegrass Girls Fastpitch president Leon Davis said earlier this month. “Then it got shut down. Now it’s just, I guess, the not knowing and trying to wait to get all the information before we make a decision.”

Bluegrass Girls Fastpitch was able to halt uniform orders, but there’s still a strong desire to play. The question remains whether there will be enough time for it to have a summer season or try to have an extended fall season, Davis said. Davis and his board will begin discussing those options this weekend, he said.

For other leagues with uniforms in hand, salvaging some kind of summer season is a priority, but condensing a schedule that normally runs from March to July into a much shorter window will be difficult, they acknowledged.

Whatever the solutions, all league officials know many of their families are ready to play.

“I think the light at the end of the tunnel is what’s kind of driving us on,” Williams said.

Over the hiatus, some parents have expressed concerns about restarting and sought refunds, but many emails and calls have been about getting going.

“The overwhelming feeling, right now, the parents want to play,” Eastern Little League president Brad Oakley said earlier this month. “And if there are certain reasonable restrictions that have to be put in place for us to do that, then they’re more than willing to do it.”

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