AUSTIN (KXAN) — Youth sports organizations across the state are allowed to begin playing games again on Monday.
On May 31, the Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders allowed practices to begin again for youth sports organizations, but athletes had to wait to resume games and other competitions until June 15. Now, sports leagues are weighing when and how to pick back up with competitions safely — given the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some sports leagues in the Austin area are launching back into games with this green light from the state guidelines. Other sports leagues are holding off on competition or waiting to see how the virus plays out.
How Austin area leagues are deciding to play
Balcones Youth Sports has resumed playing “by providing access to our member families through a partnership with another organization and also resumption of some of our select baseball programs,” said its president Marcus Horton.
He explained that partner and affiliate organizations are expected to follow best practices when it comes to social distancing and sanitation.
In addition to following state, city and county guidelines, the organization is restricting access to and monitoring its fields. Horton said this is to limit exposure for coaches and players while making it easier to contact trace. Organizations are asked to limit their use of dugouts and other spaces where social distancing can’t be effectively observed.
“Although it is not possible to completely eliminate risk to participants, Balcones Youth Sports also recognizes that it has a responsibility to provide safe access for youth to maintain a social and physically active lifestyle in a safe manner,” Horton said.
The YMCA of Greater Williamson County is planning to restart its youth sports programs June 22, beginning with practice the first week and games the following week. YMCA GWC has already been conducting temperature checks for anyone entering its facilities and plans to do the same with youth sports programs.
Laura Arredondo, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for YMCA GWC, also noted that parents will be asked ahead of time and given the option to not participate in sports and skills that require an instructor to touch their child — such as proper batting technique. Arredondo also noted that YMCA GWC will be recommending a spectator limit of two people per family, when possible.
After games at YMCA GWC programs, participants will “air high five” each other rather than actually touching hands through a high-five or a handshake. Postgame snacks will not be part of these sporting events.
Arredondo said their staff will focus on cleaning procedures, as well. Coaches will attend a COVID-19 transmission prevention training and the league will schedule games 15 minutes apart to give teams time get in and out of dugouts while staying socially distant. And they’ll wipe down and sanitize practice balls, game balls, helmets and bats regularly, YMCA GWC said.
The YMCA of the Austin area, however, will not be returning to youth sports as quickly. While YMCA of Austin is hoping to begin certain youth programs such as swim team, sports clinics, dance, and possibly gymnastics after July 4, the organization won’t run any sports leagues until September.
“The regulations seem to be changing so rapidly that for a big organization it takes a while to ramp up,” explained Sean Doles, Vice President of the YMCA of Austin. “To hire people, to train people appropriately, to determine what the appropriate safety measures are, to implement those and then communicate those to a large number of people — that process takes a long time and so you can’t just do it overnight.”
Doles explained that hiring and training the staff to carry out these programs has taken time. For example, in order to open pools, the YMCA of Austin needs lifeguards, but the lifeguards were not trained during the earlier phases of the pandemic when everyone was asked to stay at home.
When kids do get back to compete in sports, Doles expects to “do it in a way where we can still have the social distancing, we can still have enhanced cleaning protocols.”
“When you’re passing a ball back and forth or you know trying to play at close proximity with another child, there’s just a lot of considerations there. We have to be very careful,” Doles said. “And we want to ensure that kids are being safe and at the same time learning and having fun.”
At the time when sports leagues do resume at the YMCA of Austin, Doles expects to see face coverings used whenever possible, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and social distancing when possible.
Eddie Russ, who owns Soccer Shots in Austin, explained that because his organization works with younger athletes (ages 2-8), their classes will be smaller than those for older players already. Soccer Shots has a camp starting Monday and classes in parks starting this week which have a reduced number of participants.
Russ, who said he is usually a proponent of high-fives, is also having players give “air-fives” instead.
“We have other things up our sleeves to get them excited,” he said.
“I think its important for kids to get out there and play,” Russ added, noting that parents will likely be excited to get their kids out of the house and back into some activities again.
Jim Dunham, president of the Northwest Austin Youth Basketball Association, explained that his association still has some time to decide whether and how they want to play games. Tryouts and practices don’t begin until October and games don’t begin until December, he said.
Dunham thinks sports like baseball where players are already more spread out may lend themselves more easily to social distancing.
“That’s more difficult with basketball,” he said. “We’re going to have to be a little more thoughtful, but luckily we have that time to see how things develop.”
Dunham expects that games in his association will involve limiting the number of players they have in the league, having face coverings, and only holding games in larger gyms where fans are not forced to stand on the floor right next to the players.
Federal recommendations on youth sports
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the more people a child or coach interacts with and the more equipment is shared by multiple players, the higher the risk of spreading COVID-19. When it comes to youth sporting programs, the CDC says the lowest risk activities are drills at home or with family members and the highest risk activities are full competitions between teams from different geographic areas.
To limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 at youth sporting events, the CDC recommends the use of face coverings, thorough hand washing, and having players or coaches stay home when they are sick.