Less than 24 hours after Gov. Tom Wolf said at a Aug. 6 news conference that he recommended no youth sports until Jan. 1, a similar edict was added for recreational sports on the governor’s website for COVID-19 information.
The following is found under the “Recreation and Amateur Sports” section of the website: “Similar to school sports, the administration strongly recommends that youth recreational sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1, 2021. The administration is providing this strong recommendation and not an order or mandate.”
LNP|LancasterOnline has since interviewed Susan Errichetti-Frye, who is the general manager of the Palmyra-based In The Net Sports Complex, along with directors of four separate club sports organizations, three in Lancaster, one in Harrisburg.
What is their reaction to the governor’s recommendation? In short: Thanks, sir, but we’re going to move forward with our fall sports plans, following the same safety measures that have been in place over the last month or so at summer practices, camps and tournaments.
“Although the governor may feel he is acting in the best interest of everyone's safety, our business would have high hurdles to cross if we were forced to shut down again,” Errichetti-Frye said. “We are not forcing any one player or family to attend our events. All attend and participate voluntarily, which is very important to us. If someone is not comfortable, we ask that they do not come.”
Pressing pause also takes away the opportunity for older athletes to get recruited, which aids their chances of getting a college education. Still, the choice to play amidst a pandemic isn’t easy for club directors.
“This has been such a tough decision that when you’re sitting back and thinking you want to make sure you’re doing the right things,” Central PA Elite executive director Bobby Thomas said.
Central PA Elite is a Harrisburg-based not-for-profit AAU basketball program comprised of 17 total boys and girls teams with players from fifth through 11th grades. Nine players from schools in Lancaster County are members of those teams.
“For those in Class of 2021, this is their last go-around for AAU basketball,” Thomas said. “We want to give them as much exposure as possible.”
While also trying to do so as safely as possible in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while playing a high-contact sport.
“When we practice, there’s no more than one team practicing at a time,” Thomas said. “Parents have to drop off players, they’re not allowed to stay in the gym.”
Many tournaments have required temperature checks of players, coaches and parents upon entering, with masks required for everyone, except when players step on the court. Postgame handshakes are discouraged. Players bring their own water bottles. There are limitations on the number of parents allowed at each contest. And at places like Spooky Nook in Manheim, basketball games are played on every other court. And places like In The Net have set up extra sanitary stations.
“Some tournaments also eliminated bracket play,” LA Elit3 founder Matt Overbaugh said.
LA Elit3 is a Lancaster-based not-for-profit AAU basketball program featuring seven boys teams with players across seven age groups.
“They’ve kept pool play. So four teams together, limiting interaction with other teams,” Overbaugh said.
It should be noted here that the many club programs, tournaments and showcases have required COVID-19 liability waivers be signed by parents and players.
And there have been hiccups along the way. Thomas said one of his Central PA Elite teams had to shut down for 14 days after a player became sick. None of the LA Elit3 teams have had to shut down, but Overbaugh said there have been instances where teams from other club programs did not show up at a tournament because its players were sick.
Doug Harris, president of the Lancaster-based PA Classics club soccer program, said none of its 800 to 900 players have tested positive for COVID-19, but that, “We’ve had several kids who have come in contact with kids who have tested positive. And they self-quarantine. They stop coming to team training events.”
Mia Hall, program director of Lancaster-based Lanco Elite girls lacrosse club, made up of four teams and players in grades 8-11, said she knows of at least five other club lacrosse programs that have had teams temporarily shut down this summer.
Good article highlighting the recent challenges involved with summer club lacrosse...— John Walk (@JWalkLNP) August 14, 2020
- NY team had 15-year-old test positive, shut down for 2 weeks
- A Long Island player tested positive after attending a camp, the club's 100 players shut down for 10 dayshttps://t.co/Ijgp3OZNuw
Harris and Hall said they are planning for a club sports season this fall. And should high school fall sports, which include soccer, be canceled, Harris said PA Classics would be ready.
“So if the PIAA does pull the plug,” Harris said. “We will be able to accommodate our high school players who traditionally would have played high school ball.”
PA Classics operates under the umbrella of the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association, which issued a news release Aug. 7 saying it intends to move forward with a 2020-21 schedule.
"Should the governor order a postponement or suspension we will comply," the EPYSA release stated. "Until such a time, we must continue practicing the necessary mitigation strategies of wearing a mask, social distancing and minimizing spectators and so forth."
Thomas and Overbaugh said there have been discussions on similar preparations in regards to basketball for the winter.
“There has been some light talk of forming a club team league in late winter in lieu of a high school season,” Overbaugh said. “Some of the venues are actively promoting the potential for our club and a number of other central Pennsylvania clubs to play.”
“We feel that organized sports have a ton of structure which allows us to enforce our policies to keep everyone safe,” Errichetti-Frye said. “We have everyone’s best interest in mind. We want to offer the programs and activities that allow for social distancing and the ability to keep participants safe. Limiting spectators is our biggest push as we move into the fall. We feel that by reducing the number of overall attendees allow us to keep everyone safe and continue to operate on the new normal.”