HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. – Organized sports such as soccer, baseball and softball—among those considered to be low or moderate risk by New York State—are set to resume play on Monday, July 6, in regions that have reached Phase 3 of the state’s four-phased reopening plan.
Sports Returning July 6
- BMX bike racing
- Crew (2+ rowers)
- Doubles tennis
- Field hockey
- Flag football
- Non-contact lacrosse
- Racket games (badminton, racquetball)
- Swimming relays
- Batting cages
- Cross country running
- Golf/mini golf
- Flying disc games (disc golf, Frisbee)
- Horse events and competition
- Individual crew
- Individual running
- Individual swimming
- Rock climbing
- Ropes courses
- Singles tennis
- Toss/bowl games (horseshoes, bocce, bean bag toss)
It will be business as usual for the above sports, which can resume all games and practices, except for tournaments or events with multiple games in one day.
Soccer was a late addition to the list of moderate-risk sports. It was initially placed in the high-risk category with football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, volleyball, contact lacrosse, martial arts, and competitive cheer/dance. Those sports can only resume individual or distanced group training. Practices and games are still prohibited.
“We’re going to hit the fields on July 7,” said Chris Rietsch, president of John Jay Futbol Club and varsity soccer coach at John Jay High School. “We’re going to manage toward getting everybody out to the fields. We’re following the guidelines of what New York State provided and the town as well.”
Though it is possible to keep distance in drills, matches are more difficult. “I think you can control some of it—until you’re keeping score,” he said. “Once you’re keeping score, I think the game’s going to be the game”
Rietsch, a father of three, said he understands why some parents are reluctant to send their kids back on the field.
“We’re certainly hearing some people being nervous about the return,” he said. Still, more than 50 families have registered their children for the club’s five-week program.
Coaches will wear masks, but the players will not. “In 85- to 90-degree heat, you can’t run around with a mask on,” Rietsch said. But coaches will monitor distancing on the benches and the sharing of equipment.
Diamond sports—baseball and softball—lend themselves to social distancing more naturally than sports like soccer, where physical contact is an unavoidable regular occurrence.
The Greater Hudson Valley Baseball League, the largest league in the area, was scheduled to play its first game in Connecticut on July 2, and games are set to begin in New York on July 6.
“New York has done a great job managing the curve,” said David Zaslaw, GHVBL founder and president.
Zaslaw said that the league’s schedule depends on town and county officials opening the fields so teams can play. School fields are off the table until Phase 4.
“Some towns are ready to open practices and then have games,” he said. “And some (lower Westchester) aren’t quite ready. It really depends on the town...All of the Mid-Hudson region will be able to play baseball by [July 6]. And it’s up to the coaches to come up with the fields to play on. But I have very high confidence they will get fields.”
The GHVBL has more than 400 teams registered for this summer’s 42-game schedule—and they registered about a month ago, well into the pandemic.
“I was surprised at the amount of teams registered. I thought some might hesitate,” Zaslaw said. “Right now, we have 440, which is unreal, that’s unbelievable. I’m shocked, and pleasantly surprised.”
INTEREST REMAINS HIGH
Other youth sports officials confirmed that interest remains high despite the health risks.
“Everybody who showed interest pre-COVID is playing post-COVID,” said Jordan Brooks, of North Salem Youth Baseball and Softball. “There are a lot of parents, including me and my wife, who are taking COVID very, very seriously. But we feel if the rules are followed and the kids are outside and spectators are limited and there are no sunflower seeds being spit and 10 hands in the same bag of seeds and gum, there has to be some semblance of normalcy until it’s shown not to be safe at all.”
Kevin Marcus, president of the Somers Youth Sports Organization, echoed Brooks’ sentiments.
“The kids need it. They really do,” Marcus said. “The data tells us that children are very, very low risk of serious illness from this disease. Yet in some ways, they’ve been the most hard hit by it because of the changes to their lives in schools, sports, and all other things.”
Many Somers parents, Marcus said, are eager for the season to begin.
“There are always exceptions. There are some who have concerns,” he said. “But the vast majority that I have heard from are very excited and frankly anxious to get going.”
RULES, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY RISKS
On top of guidance from the local, state and federal governments, youth leagues will have their own set of rules teams must follow.
In the GHVBL, practices and games will follow new protocols, including only three players at a time inside the dugout, only 12 players (per team) allowed to come to the field for each game, and umpires and coaches must wear masks at all times. Two parents or spectators are allowed from each family, and a universal “no-touch” rule also applies to players, coaches, and umpires.
“The no touching and socially distancing will be the toughest to enforce,” said Mike Ambrosecchia, coach of Mahopac’s 17U team. “Kids are playing with their friends. It will be very interesting.”
Zaslow believes the adults on the field can keep things on track.
“I feel like the coaches can keep the kids under control,” Zaslaw said. “And kids are fast learners, so I don’t think it will be a problem. I think they will get acclimated to the new rules very quickly.
But no matter how thorough youth sports organizers are, new guidance is likely to keep coming until opening day.
“We have to be very flexible in terms of changing and modifying what we’re doing to the changing directives and interpretations,” Marcus said. “What we’re trying to do is synthesize all that information and do what makes sense for us in terms of what’s 1) required and 2) what’s appropriate in terms of mitigating risks.”
Ultimately, Marcus tells parents, “you need to make decisions that are appropriate for your family.” But he doesn’t believe they’re choosing between their children’s physical or mental wellbeing.
“The idea that we can do it in a relatively safe way is where the comfort level comes in,” Marcus said “It shouldn’t come down to making tradeoffs toward your health on one side as it relates to COVID risk and your health on the other side as it relates to being sedentary, having kids locked into their devices and never leaving their house. I think you can accomplish both.”
Bill Consiglio, executive director of Shrub Oak Athletic Club baseball, said about 100 players are already signed up to play ball. SOAC will require each of its nine teams to have a Safety Committee with at least three parents, with one member in attendance at every game. The athletic club will follow mask protocols (coaches will wear them; not players), enforce distancing inside and outside of the dugout, and sanitize equipment, such as the baseballs.
If players or coaches test positive for COVID-19, they cannot return for at least 14 days. Other players are not required to be tested if a teammate tests positive.
“We’re taking the safety very seriously,” Consiglio said. “It’s likely we’re taking even further than many organizations… I think this approach, which incorporates not only league requirements but New York State and CDC guidelines, it’s what’s likely to yield the greatest amount of success.”
Consiglio, whose Shrub Oak teams will play in the GHVBL, told his coaches to prioritize safety over winning. If opposing teams are refusing to comply with the guidelines, he said, “We told our team to protect their families and leave the game. They can keep the W.”
But Consiglio does not think it will get to that point.
“I think COVID has really brought the best out of a lot of people, especially in our area,” he said.
Additional reporting by Skip Pearlman.