A year ago, youth sports — like just about every other aspect of our lives — were put on hold. No Little League baseball. No youth soccer. No flag football.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant mostly staying home, avoiding crowds and keeping bats, balls, gloves and cleats on the shelf, except for maybe a backyard catch with a family member.
Some outdoor play began in the summer, albeit with protocols to protect against the spread of the virus. And bowling centers were able to reopen late last summer. But many parents didn’t feel safe letting their children rejoin their team sports and then the increase in COVID cases last fall led to the cancellation of youth football, soccer and basketball. Young athletes have been aching to get back on the fields and practicing and playing games with their friends.
And now, finally, they can.
While face masks, social distancing, hand-washing and sanitizer aren’t going away just yet, the increased availability of a COVID vaccine and diminishing cases of the virus are allowing youth sports to make close to a normal spring return on Staten Island.
High school athletics got a green light from the mayor to start this month, and recreational leagues are getting ready to begin their seasons. Great Kills Little League opened its season on March 27, and the remaining six leagues are planning April 10 openings. And it seems parents are anxious to get their children playing again.
Little League District 24 Administrator Frank Cambria said registration is up across Staten Island and everyone is looking forward to completing his or her regular seasons and all-star tournaments, and for the Little League World Series in Williamsport to take place come August.
“Last year we had some people who didn’t want to sign up their children for the summer and fall seasons we had, but now it seems like everyone is signing up for Little League,” Cambria said. “Everything’s been locked down for so long, kids want to get out and play and live a normal life.”
Things won’t be quite like they used to be yet, however. Cambria said players, coaches and spectators still will be expected to wear facemasks and stay socially distant. Players don’t need to wear their masks on the field since they’re already social distant when in their fielding positions, however.
“Last year, I would say 90 percent of the people at our games complied with CDC protocol 100 percent,” Cambria said. “There were a few people who refused to wear masks, but we tried to coax them to stand off by themselves. It’s hard to enforce and you don’t want to create another problem by trying to make someone wear a mask.”
Cambria said all leagues plan to abide by city and state guidelines, as they did last summer. He is a bit concerned that the pandemic fatigue so many people are experiencing and the feeling that the vaccines will provide adequate protection against the virus might make people more lax this year.
“As I travel on Staten Island, I don’t see everyone wearing masks the way I did last summer,” Cambria said. “I just hope everyone just plays it safe as long as necessary so we can keep playing right to the end.”
So parents, get your kids out on the field. Make sure you have masks and hand sanitizer. Remain socially distant. Exercise is important. Kids need to socialize again.
Joe LoVerde coached youth sports on Staten Island for nearly 40 years. He’s also a longtime newspaper editor and sportswriter.
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