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Youth baseball organizations wrestle with pandemic challenges

Youth baseball organizations are struggling to make a go of a 2020 season hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homewood Baseball and Softball (HBBSB) is preparing for a late start to its regular season. Flossmoor Baseball and Softball (FBBSB) has canceled all activities until further notice.

In mid-May, FBBSB announced that its regular season would be canceled, but the organization planned to create limited opportunities for play.

But on Thursday, in an email to families, organization President Fredric Mitchell announced that a member of the FBBSB community had been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. While the exposed person’s test results have not been returned, Mitchell said that “out of an abundance of caution and per local government and CDC guidelines, all FBBSB activities are canceled until further notice.”

The suspension of activities includes the Flossmoor Firebirds traveling team, players camp and field maintenance.

Through mid-May the FBBSB board held out hope that the summer season could be salvaged. It monitored the COVID-19 pandemic situation and state health officials’ guidance. But on May 26, Mitchell announced the board concluded it would not be safe or practical to attempt full league play. The season was canceled.

“In short, we could not ensure the health and safety of our players, families, volunteers and fans,” he said in an email announcement.

Even though outdoor recreational activities are allowed under the Restore Illinois guidelines, there are a number of precautionary measures that have to be taken to limit exposure to COVID-19. Mitchell said the uncertainty created by the pandemic made it difficult to plan a safe program.

“Most of the feedback was positive and families understood it was a tough decision, but the right call,” Mitchell said. “They especially appreciated knowing as early as possible, given the uncertainty of summer plans.”

Families were given the option of having their registration fee applied to next season, receiving a refund or having it serve as a donation to the organization. 

Meanwhile, HBBSB officials and families are planning to start a delayed regular season on Saturday, July 18, and are hoping safety precautions put in place will allow kids to enjoy some baseball and softball this summer, in spite of the complications caused by the pandemic.

Nick Quirke, HBBSB director of communications, said the opening day festivities will not occur. He reported about 400 players have signed up to begin play. That’s down about 40 percent.

Quirke said the board spent a long time planning for safe play. Families were offered options whether to participate or wait until next year and the board respects those decisions.

He also noted that state guidelines for Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan will be met or exceeded.

“Our main concern this year is following the rules to ensure a fun and safe experience for the young people in Homewood, Flossmoor and other communities,” he said. 

For the games played at Izaak Walton Preserve, masks will be mandatory for coaches and optional for players. 

The board also created a new position of safety captain. That person will help monitor compliance with safety precautions and encourage people to comply.

Other measures include limiting concessions to pre-packaged foods, increased cleaning and disinfecting of restrooms and dugouts and reducing the number of ball fields used from three to two.

HBBSB will keep track of people who attend games, which aids in contact tracing should anyone contract the virus. 

“It’s going to be a different year, but we are going to play some ball,” Quirke said.

The organization’s annual Homewood Invitational Tournament, which typically brings hundreds of players and their families to town, has been postponed. The tournament is usually held in July. Quirke said the board will assess how this shortened regular season goes. The tournament may be scheduled for the fall, if it appears to be feasible.

The Homewood Heights youth baseball league also delayed opening its regular season. The league announced on July 6 that its T-ball season would begin Aug. 1 for children aged 4 to 7. Games will be played through Sept. 5.

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