After COVID delay, youth sports ready to start practicing
Abington’s youth lacrosse, softball, and baseball leagues will hit the fields as early as this week — finally — with hopes of salvaging seasons long-delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the final schedule for each organization is still uncertain. Scrimmages and games are still banned in the current phase of the state’s reopening plan, meaning leagues won’t be able to finalize a game schedule until it knows when Phase 3 will start.
“We’re moving forward and hopefully everything works out,” said Kevin D’Ambra, president of Abington Girls Softball.
Volunteers for Abington Little League have rebuilt two pitching mounds, hung advertiser banners, and distributed equipment to coaches in advance of practices starting this week.
“The board’s thrilled,” said Ron Solimini, who is in his first year as league president. “All the hard work we did in the off-season, we have a new board, we’ve been doing new fundraising. We’re excited to be able to have a season.”
Little leaguers will practice once a week in the coming weeks, with hopes that games could start after the July 4th holiday — if all goes well, and the state and town opens things up further. The plan is to play two games a week as part of a 10-game season, with playoffs at the end. But Solimini said the league is aware “the rug could be pulled out from under us at any moment” if the virus surges again throughout the region.
“If the games get pushed back then the board is going to have to have a serious discussion about cancelling,” he said.
D’Ambra said the softball league is working on a schedule for the program’s three levels of competition. The under 18 and 12 teams will be competing in the intertown South Shore Summer League, which is hoping to start at the end of June — providing the state moves into the next phase of reopening. The under 10 program, based on feedback from parents, will be an Abington-only recreational league,
The tough part, D’Ambra said, is trying to figure out social distancing-complaint practices, when they’re restricted to 10 kids in a group at a time.
“We just want to get the kids in a situation we can control, and keep them safe and have fun,” he said.
Mike Grafton, president of Abington Youth Lacrosse, said two-day-a-week practices begin Monday, however, like the other leagues, they still don’t know exactly when scrimmages and games will start.
He said only a small percentage of players who signed up to play this spring won’t be taking the field in the coming weeks.
“I’m very happy that we’re going to try and make something of this,” Grafton said. “If not, it means the players going almost two years without it.”
Adhering to social and physical distancing guidelines will be a challenge, Grafton said, but it will be made easier by the nature of the game. Players wear gloves and use sticks, meaning coaches have to worry less about multiple hands touching lacrosse balls.
But players will still be broken into groups of 10, with those groups kept at least 25 feet apart.
“There will be one group at one end of the field and one at the other,” Grafton said. “They’re not having any contact drills. All the drills will be skill based: catching, passing, shooting, and throwing.”
The leagues are advising parents about the rules ahead of time. Players need to show up at the field fully dressed and can’t share equipment. Solimini said his league will make sure each player has his own helmet and bat that will be returned at the end of the season. They’re asking parents to discuss some of the guidelines with their kids, such as the prohibition on sharing water bottles, as well as the ban on celebratory hugs and high fives.
There are concerns about how younger kids, who haven’t seen their friends in almost four months, will manage physically distancing requirements.
“How do you keep kindergarten kids separate from other kids?” D’Ambra asked.
Solimini said the league cancelled its two youngest levels, the Farm League and Instructional League, because they didn’t believe the programs would be workable under the restrictions.
But overall, baseball practices will look largely familiar, Solimini said. Players will be able to take batting practice and run infield and outfield drills.
“The good thing about baseball is that the positions are away from each other, really,” he said. “And if they’re doing infield or outfield drills, we’ll have them stand back a little ways.
“Everyone’s been cooped up for a while so we’re going to try and make this a positive thing.”