To play or not to play? Games postponed. Matches canceled. Will athletics ever return to normal? Youth sports events during the coronavirus pandemic are raising plenty of questions—and eyebrows.
On Mother’s Day weekend, Rob Worstenholm held a youth baseball tournament near St. Louis, Missouri. The event featured about 50 teams and strict social-distancing measures. It was among the first sports activities of any kind since the shutdown began in March.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Worstenholm said of players at the event. “It was like a joy times a hundred.”
Not everyone was joyful. “I mean, 50% of the people hate me,” he says. “But the other 50%, I could have run for president.”
Meanwhile, in Florida, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) planned a volleyball event. Last year, the same tourney drew nearly 3,000 teams. The AAU spent weeks assuring attendees that organizers would check temperatures, ban handshakes, and put plenty of space between courts. Still, hundreds of teams withdrew, so organizers postponed.
“My families are very wary about traveling to states that [are rushing] to open,” says Konrad Ott, who coaches a California girls volleyball club. He and his team were worried about hotels, food, and other issues in a location that perhaps wasn’t ready to host an event safely.
Yet Tony Carrow of a Nebraska volleyball club says his parents were comfortable with the low infection rate in Florida. “We had a very strong voice from certain parents that they wanted their kids to go,” Carrow says. “They want to get back to living their [lives].”
There’s the rub: Individuals, families, and teams must weigh the risks of when, where, and how to “return to normal.”
Pediatrician and California state senator Richard Pan calls sports tournaments “high-risk” situations. “You’re drawing people from so many different parts of the country,” he observes. “[We] take all those people, bring them to one place, have them mixed together.”
Scott Kretchmar, a former exercise and sports science professor, points out that physical risk is part of most youth sports. With the coronavirus, some people believe waiting—postponing or canceling—“removes an important, unnecessary risk.” They believe waiting gives time for slowing the virus’ spread and for new treatments to emerge.
But Worstenholm isn’t waiting. He plans to run events all summer “unless something blows up.”
Early on, he told his staff, “If we do this right, we’re going to be the poster children for showing that this can be done safely. If we get this wrong, I don’t know what we’ll be, but it won’t be good.”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. — Proverbs 3:5