As sports organizations are taking tentative steps toward resuming play amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, a youth baseball group held a tournament last weekend in Missouri, with plans for another, and a volleyball tournament that bills itself as the largest in the world remains scheduled next month in Florida.
In two suburban venues west of St. Louis, GameTime Tournaments staged the Mother’s Day Classic, drawing around 500 players from 47 baseball teams, down from the usual 180, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, which has had 10,142 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 542 deaths as of Wednesday, has begun lifting stay-at-home orders and reopening nonessential businesses, though schools remain closed until the fall.
Before its tournament, GameTime issued a set of safety changes. Participants and their families were told of social distancing rules that, among others, required no more than three players at a time in a dugout and baseballs sanitized every half-inning.
But social distancing isn’t particularly easy, especially when dealing with kids. Sometimes, according to the Post-Dispatch, groups of four or more boys were seen in the dugout, coaches and players leaned in to quickly confer, runners slid into bases and tagged one another and bases were stolen. “I think we did our best, for having 12-year-old boys who don’t always listen,” Kathy Tierney, the mother of a participant, told the newspaper.
Next month, the Amateur Athletic Union plans to proceed with the 12-day Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, though it has found that a significantly smaller number of teams than usual will participate. Neutral spectators and international teams will not be allowed; temperature checks will be done at the beginning of each section and face masks are encouraged. Water fountains will be removed and handshakes, along with the event’s opening ceremony, will be eliminated.
In its announcement, the AAU noted that its tournament has a significant economic impact on the area’s hotels and restaurants as well as on its bottom line, with $895 and $995 entry fees. More than half of the 1,800 registered teams have withdrawn over the last three weeks, with USA Today reporting that 200 teams withdrew within a 24-hour stretch this week. As of Wednesday evening, there were 508 registered teams. That would mean that as many as 15,000 athletes, coaches and chaperones from 34 states could travel to the Orange County Convention Center tournament site for the event, which is scheduled to begin in mid-June.
Like the AAU, GameTime is forging ahead. It plans another tournament this weekend in the St. Louis area and director Rob Worstenholm told USA Today the Mother’s Day Classic showed “everybody here in St. Louis that this can be done safely.”
But the fact that some parents and teams choose not to participate indicates a great deal of uncertainty remains.
“There is so much that we don’t know about transmission in our state,” Lynelle Phillips, the vice president of the Missouri Public Health Association, told the Post-Dispatch. “To hold a huge baseball tournament, even the most optimistic of us have to cringe at that.”