It’s been a rough spring for young athletes of the Cape Region.
The entire school spring sports season was canceled, and very few youth sports have been allowed so far this summer. Kids and parents are now anxiously awaiting news from the state on when they may resume after the state of emergency due to the coronavirus was extended.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said guidance for most sports will be released Friday, June 12, and most will be allowed to begin competition in Phase 2, which begins Monday, June 15. Tournaments will still be prohibited in Phase 2, although Rattay said they may resume in Phase 3.
“I think many of us miss it greatly, as I know many of our kids miss it,” said Rattay, who has children in youth sports. “We very much want our kids to get back out there. But this is a respiratory illness, so the best way to prevent the spread is social distance and face coverings.”
Earlier this week, the state released guidelines for baseball and softball, which may begin play June 15. Game play will look different; umpires are required to stand 6 feet behind the pitcher, and the catcher must be at least 6 feet behind the batter. Stealing second base is prohibited to ensure the first baseman can remain physically distant from a runner.
On June 11, Milton Little League announced it had canceled the 2020 season.
“Even though Phase 2 in Delaware is allowing youth and recreational sports to reconvene, there are too many restrictions set forth from the CDC, Little League, and the state of Delaware that will take away from the integrity of the sport and not allow for an enjoyable season,” the board wrote in a Facebook post.
Rehoboth Beach and Lewes Little Leagues have not yet announced their plans for the season.
The state will not provide guidance for high-contact sports such as football, wrestling, hockey and rugby. It remains unknown when those sports will be allowed to resume.
How to regulate sports during a pandemic is proving to be a challenge, Rattay said.
“You have kids running up and down the field breathing hard, then fighting for the ball. There is risk in that,” she said. “The risk is decreased by being outside, for sure, but we are looking at those sports where there is a risk to social distancing to find an approach to make it safer.”
During his June 9 press conference, Gov. John Carney empathized with parents and grandparents of children itching to get back on the field.
“My patience has been tested through all this,” he said. “But the virus is still out there. Yes, it’s true children have not been getting the virus at rates like adults, but we worry about them carrying the virus to their grandmothers and grandfathers. That’s a risk concern.”
Virus spread is one of the main reasons tournaments will remain prohibited in Phase 2, Rattay said.
“There’s an increased risk when you have players who are playing multiple teams and multiple games in one day,” she said. “It’s also challenging for contact tracing.”
Some leaders of athletics organizations say the state has been too slow to allow sports.
“What has been done to our youth in the past three months has been extremely detrimental, and we’ll be dealing with the outcomes for a long time to come,” said Ike Eisenhour, executive director of Delaware Shore Field Hockey. “Disease and death has always been part of the human condition, and right now those components have been dominating the news without considering life is to be lived.”
Eisenhour said he hopes to have his league up and running by Monday, June 15.
Henlopen Soccer Club is set to kick off an abbreviated coed recreational league for children ages 2-14 Wednesday, July 8. The three-week program will include six games played on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Delmarva Swim Association announced its decision in late May to cancel its summer season.
“We cannot ensure the safety of the coaches, swimmers and parents in the practices and meets for both home and especially traveling away teams,” the DSA board wrote in a letter to teams. Individual teams are permitted to practice and compete, but meets will not be sanctioned by DSA.
Sports at the Beach in Georgetown announced June 8 that it will resume its tournament season June 20-21 with the Pappy Palooza. Under current restrictions, activity at the venue will look very different. Pre-game and post-game handshakes are prohibited, as are in-game celebrations when players would normally high-five or hug after a big play. Spectators are encouraged to bring their own chairs, as bleacher seating will be limited or unavailable. Concession stands will be operating under takeout restaurant guidelines.
“We feel confident that with your support and commitment, we can make this work,” Sports at the Beach wrote on its website. “We are one of the largest tournament venues in the country, and eyes will be on us to make sure we are following procedures. Let's all use some common sense and enjoy the game!”
Another popular tournament venue is DE Turf north of Milford. The organization has not yet announced when tournaments will resume, but it has started to hold small-group technical training sessions for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.
The popular Senior Softball World Series in Roxana, which draws teams from around the world, was canceled in late April. It plans to return to Delaware in 2021.
“I know this is not what we wanted to hear, but as you know there are a lot of moving parts that we can't control,” said Martin Donovan, tournament director. “The good news is we will be back for the 2021 World Series. Let’s get through the coronavirus, listen to the healthcare providers and be safe.”
This story has been updated with new information.