By Chris Yow
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, sports have been among the hardest hit activities. Professional sports stopped play in March, and other than NASCAR and a 4-man golf match over the weekend, live sports have yet to return to our televisions.
Locally, recreational sports are a staple of our lives. From team moms handing out those coveted post-game snacks to taking home the tournament championship trophies, the sights and sounds of the ballparks are missed by many.
The Spring Hill Hawks, a local recreational sports organization, announced to parents last week there would be no games played this spring due to COVID-19. Columbia’s rec baseball league, however, still plans to begin practice on June 1, barring any unforeseen obstacles, according to its Facebook page. The league based its return date on Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 30, which limited public gatherings and recreational activities until May 30.
Columbia American Little League president Jon McDonald posted an update on May 4, stating the league will play from June until August, as long as Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order to stay home is lifted by May 30.
In Spring Hill, league president Paul Downing told parents the 2020 spring sports season that included flag football and soccer would be canceled. Downing said playing this season was simply not feasible as the league typically begins preparing for the fall seasons in July.
“We just wouldn’t have nearly enough time to get in the games without putting the kids at risk,” Downing said. “We didn’t want to try and cram a bunch of games into a few weeks, so we made the decision to cancel.”
At the time of the cancellation, the Hawks had established team rosters and distributed uniforms, but had not held any contests. Downing said most parents are opting to roll over their registration fees to the fall, as both flag football and soccer are hoping to be able to play this season. What is important to note is refunds are more difficult to administer because much of those funds are used to pay insurance and other administration fees. None of the money is paid to administrators, however.
“Every person who does this is a volunteer,” Downing said. “So, we are offering partial refunds to families who request them, but we want them to know it’s because we spent the money on uniforms, kids and other necessary fees we are obligated to pay in order to provide this service.”
April Watson, head of the Columbia Fast-Pitch Softball rec league, said her league will also move to the fall, with refunds available for those parents who need them, minus insurance fees. The league hopes to begin practice in July and start play in August.
“This is tough because, as a non-profit, we rely on having both seasons,” Watson said. “Usually, we play on Sundays in the fall, but now we will also play on some weeknights, and we are going to lose several of our girls because of that.”
In addition to the loss of players due to playing dates, Watson said the league’s 12U and 14U teams will be affected, as several players will be playing for their middle and high school teams. Age groups will be determined by players’ ages for the spring season, though Watson said players may choose to play up if they would like.
Local travel baseball teams are also struggling, as tournaments are usually played hours away from home. Many teams and organizers fear cities and school systems who own the fields where games are typically played will not allow it.
Nonetheless, each organization remains optimistic about the return of rec sports.
“We hope things can get back going soon,” Downing said. “I think it’s important for our kids to participate in outdoor activities and have those team-building sports. We just have to stay safe while doing it.”