As Chatham enters Phase 2 of reopening, youth sports remain on pause

BY MITCHELL NORTHAM, News + Record Correspondent
Posted 5/29/20

After being on hold for about two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, sports are slowly beginning to resume across the world, country and North Carolina.

Germany’s professional soccer …

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As Chatham enters Phase 2 of reopening, youth sports remain on pause

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After being on hold for about two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, sports are slowly beginning to resume across the world, country and North Carolina.

Germany’s professional soccer league, the Bundesliga, resumed on May 16. The next day, NASCAR drivers started their engines at the historic Darlington Raceway. This past Sunday, Brad Keselowski roared to a first-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The NBA is reportedly making plans to return to play in Orlando, while the National Women’s Soccer League is planning for a tournament in Utah.

But it might be a while before all sports get back to some sense of normalcy. Each league and each game has its own hurdles. And the domino that might be last to fall is youth sports.

Even as Chatham County and the rest of North Carolina entered Phase 2 of reopening last Friday, sports for kids remains on the shelf. While restaurants, bars and salons are allowed to reopen, gyms, health clubs and playgrounds are not. Swimming pools are only allowed at 50 percent capacity, and crowds outdoors are to be limited to under 25 people, according to orders from Gov. Roy Cooper.

When North Carolina entered Phase 2 though, Cooper and Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen released recommendations for resuming non-contact sports. Those sports include golf, baseball, softball, cycling, swimming, diving, dance, tennis, disc golf, horseback riding, track and field, figure skating, curling, running and pickleball. Spectators are allowed if they are in compliance with the limit on mass gatherings and if social distancing is being practiced. Face coverings are recommended for those not engaged in a physical activity. The guidelines recommend that administrators of the sport have a plan in place for immediately removing athletes, coaches or others from the sports setting if symptoms develop.

“We’re not recommending contact sports go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward but with some guidelines,” Cohen said at a May 22 news conference.

In a May 26 news conference, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced its decision to extend its “dead period,” which first ran until June 1, until at least June 15. It also laid out a plan for a tentative return to modified preseason conditioning and workouts in mid-June for all sports — which will remain subject to change based on North Carolina’s COVID-19 metrics and guidance from the state.

The Chatham County Parks & Recreation Department will take its cues from federal, state and local authorities, assistant director Jina Stamey said.

“We are following guidelines from the CDC, North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association and National Recreation and Parks Association,” Stamey said. “We hope to resume as soon as we as a whole feel it is safe.”

The county has already been forced to scrap several youth sports seasons, including programs for track and field, tee-ball, softball, tennis and volleyball. Two weeks ago, the county began processing refunds to parents who had already paid for these canceled sports and other activities. Stamey said processing should be completed by June 5.

Axios recently reported the “most optimistic projections for a return of youth sports are by late August” and the “industry stands to lose billions.” According to USA Today, the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana, has already lost $1.8 million in revenue and fees. While youth sports are paused, parents aren’t spending money on programs, equipment and travel. More than 110 youth sports organizations signed a letter sent to Congress asking for an $8.5 billion recovery fund, including the Carolina Regional Volleyball Association, which has offices in Clemmons.

In Chatham County, the parks and recreation department hasn’t just had to halt youth sports, but other outdoor activities as well. It also asks those who are sick to stay home and those visiting parks to continue practice social distancing.

“We had to cancel special events like our annual egg hunt and Dog Days of Summer,” Stamey said. “Our parks, open space and access points are open and they are getting heavily used because people want to get outside.”

She added: “The youth are missing out on sports they have waited all year to participate in, socialization, building friendships, families getting to see them participate, gaining skills to advance, burning energy and the mental stimulation that comes with doing things they love.”

While organized youth sports are at a standstill and playgrounds are closed, the county’s parks are open and its public tennis courts reopened May 9. In an email, Tracy Burnett, the Chatham County Parks & Recreation Director, said keeping families “active and engaged is vitally important to us.” The department is offering virtual tours of its five parks and recently took video submissions of residents catching balls to create a county-wide “virtual game of catch.”

“We miss seeing the kids and adults participating in our programs,” Burnett said in an email, “and we can’t wait to get back to our traditional programs and services when it’s safe to do so.”

Like most professional sports, it may be a long time before things get back to the way they were pre-coronavirus for youth leagues. When they do resume, there might be new rules and new regulations. To keep everyone safe while play resumes, players, parents, coaches and officials may have to come to grips with a new normal. What that exactly looks like is still hazy.

“I think there will be some long-term impacts but just like everyone else we are not sure what that is going to look like,” Stamey said. “The parks and recreation community across the state are working together to find new ways to provide recreational needs regardless of what the new normal may look like.”


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