El Reno youth baseball, softball teams open up summer seasons under COVID-19 rules
That's the phrase that Oklahoma youth baseball and softball players have been waiting to hear since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March.
That came to an end last week as El Reno co-hosted a youth softball tournament along with Harrah. Baseball started its league season last Monday and softball followed suit three days later.
“I have never seen anything like this and it’s the most unreal thing I have ever had to deal with. We are trying to figure out how to deal with all this when there is no precedent,” said Jeff Kouba, Parks and Recreation director for the city of El Reno.
Friday, May 15 was the first day organized youth sports could play games under both El Reno and Oklahoma’s reopening plan. Teams were allowed to practice starting May 1.
“That was done to ensure we could have all the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in place. It’s easy to follow those guidelines in practice but game situations are more difficult,” said Kouba.
Kouba, who is also president of El Reno Youth Baseball, says organizers from the Canadian Valley Baseball Association have been busy revamping schedules and the league’s basic makeup this season due to fears over the virus.
The CVBA covers youth baseball programs in El Reno, Piedmont, Yukon, Mustang and Tuttle. The league had already conducted its preseason ranking tournaments and was near completion of the summer schedule when the state went into an emergency lockdown.
“Half of the people think this is all a hoax and the other half think we should shut it all down. It’s a personal choice and we need to stop arguing and let everyone make their own decision as long as we can make it as safe as possible,” said Kouba.
Kouba said the league is not penalizing teams that do not feel comfortable playing baseball due to fears of the virus. He added about 20 percent of the teams have backed out over the five-town league.
“We have had to shorten the season a little. We have always been done about the middle of June but now it will be closer to the end of June. Teams may have to get used to playing three games a week instead of two,” said Kouba.
The CVBA will scale back each age group to one division instead of two or more. Game scores will be kept to ensure competition but no league standings will be kept.
“We are trying to figure out how to get back to some form of normality for the kids so that they can start to feel like normal but still cover all the bases,” said Kouba.
El Reno’s Ashbrook Complex, which will also host some games for Yukon teams until its city fields can be made playable, will undergo several noticeable changes.
▶ Bleachers have been removed and fans are asked to spread out and sit down 6 feet apart.
▶ Hand sanitizing dispensers will be available.
▶ Social distancing rules will be practiced.
▶ No teams or coaches will hand-shake after games.
▶ Coaches will be required to spread players out in dugouts.
▶ Bathrooms will be cleaned and sanitized more frequently.
▶ Outside areas of the ballparks will be sanitized daily.
▶ Concession stand will be cleaned inside and outside daily.
“Usually we don’t let anyone park in the outfield but if grandparents want to come park near the outfield fences and stay in their cars and watch their grandkids play, we are going to let them. It’s about keeping them safe and let them come watch,” said Kouba.
Masks are not mandatory but some players, coaches and fans at the park were wearing face coverings.
El Reno youth softball is played at the Joe E. Riley Complex, and while masks are not mandatory, they are urged according to league officials.
“We highly recommend fans wear masks. The players do not have to wear medical grade masks but we are requiring them all to wear helmet face masks,” said Missy McClain, treasurer for the El Reno Youth Softball League.
Players are required to bring their own equipment and none can be shared among teammates. Each dugout has bottles of hand sanitizer for players to use.
“It’s going to be different. We want everyone to be team players but we are going to have to have some non-normal things in place that will have to be followed if they want to play. The kids have been great with it,” said McClain.
The complex does use both concrete and metal bleachers that are being cleaned and sanitized regularly. McClain said social distancing of 6 feet apart among fans is being observed.
Other changes at the complex include:
▶ Sanitizing station at the entrance to the complex.
▶ Restrooms regularly cleaned and hand sanitizer available for patrons.
▶ Snack bar workers are wearing gloves and masks that are frequently replaced.
▶ High -traffic areas will be washed and sanitized.
▶ League softballs will be wiped down each night after use.
“We know it won’t be the league they are used to or the number of games. We are just trying to give them the best possible summer league we can because the kids have been through enough with losing school and not getting to say goodbye to their friends.
“We will do the best we can to keep everyone safe,” said McClain.