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Youth sports adjusting during pandemic
Turlock Little League back on the field, high school sports still uncertain
youth sports
Turlock American Little League resumed practices on May 25, with health precautions in place (Journal file photo).

Whether or not local youth participate in a sport this summer depends entirely on which sport they play. One sport has already started back up, some are canceled altogether and others are at a standstill as uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic carries on.

According to Pitman High School athletic director Dave Walls, conversations with the CIF Sac Joaquin Section have indicated that the start of fall sports within Turlock Unified School District next school year is up in the air, depending on public health information to come. High school sports that would typically start practicing over the summer include football, cross country, girls golf, girls tennis, volleyball and water polo.

As of now, the plan is to follow the 2020-2021 SJS sports calendar that was approved by the Board of Managers in 2019. That could change should the pandemic continue to pose a threat, Walls said.

“We can't yet answer the question if these sports will be able to start because we don't have the needed information from the State, Public Health Officer, Stanislaus County Office of Education and local school districts,” Walls said. “As we receive info from these agencies it will guide and dictate what the local high schools are able to do with fall sports. Most, if not all high schools, are taking direction from their school district.”

There are plenty of concerns when it comes to hosting high school sports in the midst of a pandemic, Walls added, including protecting the health and safety of student-athletes, their coaches and the fans that come to watch. Should no fans or a limited number of spectators be allowed at games if and when they take place, there are also fears that the loss will affect schools’ revenue as well as their culture.

According to Walls, different safety measures meant to make fall sports possible have been discussed, including modified schedules and pushed-back start dates if necessary. Some sports are more feasible than others when it comes to curbing the spread of COVID-19, like cross country, girls’ golf, girls’ tennis and perhaps even volleyball — all of which have limited person-to-person contact.

“The section hopes to create opportunities for all athletes to complete all three sports seasons during the 2020-2021 school year,” he said.

While high school students who play a fall sport are stuck questioning whether or not they’ll be able to practice over the summer or even play later this year, youth Little League players are gearing up for the potential start of their season. With the 2020 Seadogs swimming season canceled, it’s one of the only youth sports currently taking place.

Turlock American Little League resumed practices on May 25, with health precautions in place. In order for players to participate, their parents have to sign a “Return to Play” waiver. Teams at practice can be in groups no larger than 10, and parents are asked that children who exhibit signs of illness stay at home.

There will be plenty of sanitizing during games and practices, no sharing of any equipment other than the ball (which is recommended to be changed every two innings), no gum, seeds or food, no spitting and no high-fives.

According to TALL President Otto Askil, 90 to 95 percent of the players who originally signed up to play Little League are returning for the resumed season. Some aren’t playing due to health concerns, but a majority of kids who aren’t returning have moved on to other sports.

The Little League season would typically begin March 1 and run through mid-May, consisting of 14 to 16 games. The resumed season will be what Askil referred to as a “Sandlot Season,” meaning no rules, regulations or playoff schedule. The hope is to play as many games as would normally be played, he added, with the season possibly lasting into September.

“We’re prepared to go as long as people are willing to play. Even if we can get 10 games in for everybody, that's still better than nothing,” Askil said. “The kids are just jumping at the bit to play.”

It will be a team effort to ensure the safety of everyone involved, with Askil emphasizing the need for parents to act as an extra set of eyes and ears to make sure their children follow guidelines and don’t come to practice sick.

“We’re asking the parents for their help,” Askil said. “There are some things that we’re going to do our best to enforce, and we’re going to have to rely a little on parents and kids to comply with them.”

With schools and parks still closed, it’s still unclear if TALL will be able to play games on their home field at Julien Elementary School. The same goes for Turlock National Little League, which President Michele Helwick said is still in a state of limbo since their home field, Soderquist Park, is maintained by the City of Turlock.

“Right now, it’s all dependent on what the state government does with city fields,” Helwick said. “If we can’t have it, we can’t play.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the season, Askil is optimistic.

“In order to make it safe and successful, we’re going to need everyone chipping in,” he said. “Little League is big everywhere, but the smaller the town, the bigger the impact is. I hope this does prove to be a positive outcome and it will be big for our community. There’s not a whole heck of a lot kids can do around here.”