Chatham Soccer League planning for an August restart after coronavirus concerns

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/5/20

PITTSBORO — Martin Slavin, the executive director of Chatham Soccer League, admitted the last few months have been “pretty scary” for the organization.

CSL, a non-profit that’s facilitated …

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Chatham Soccer League planning for an August restart after coronavirus concerns

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Martin Slavin, the executive director of Chatham Soccer League, admitted the last few months have been “pretty scary” for the organization.

CSL, a non-profit that’s facilitated youth soccer in the county for 26 years, suspended its spring season on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On May 4, its board canceled the season in full, outlined how the organization had been “greatly impacted” financially on its website and offered families a route for donations.

“We plan for certain contingencies to happen,” Slavin said, “but obviously nothing like this.”

Since that announcement early last month, though, the league has made significant strides.

CSL has developed a tentative plan to restart its recreational fall season in early August — and its membership has provided the necessary donations to keep expenses paid in the interim.

“I think the reality is a lot of people want to play soccer, and they knew what happened,” said Erik Berg, the league’s director of playing fields. “The idea that we would play again at some point in the future sounded good, so they stayed involved.”

The league’s planned restart — which will remain subject to change — was developed by its board members in accordance with state guidelines and information from CSL’s parent organization, the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association.

Its two main components: small-group training and “small-sided” games, which are played on smaller sections (such as a half or quarter) of a regular-sized field. In both situations, the league wants to prioritize safety and minimize exposure.

Berg described the set-up as “small pods” of players training and competing in 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 games. CSL, which offers seasons for ages 2 through 14, will also reduce the standard registration fee for any new families.

“We’re going to have to be realistic with these small 5-on-5 games to get started,” Berg said, “because fewer people in the pool is a better way to manage transmissions, the contagions. But it’s also realistic in regards to the number of people who are actually going to be showing up ... membership could drop off by 50 percent.”

The plan has its fair share of working parts, too. Slavin, for example, is worried about how referees will factor in. It’s not ideal for referees to work multiple games in a day and be exposed to multiple pods, but it’s also not ideal for them to lose out on the income they’d get from working those multiple games.

CSL has also considered playing its small-sided games without goalies or substituting a mannequin or a target in their place (especially so in lower age groups). And it’s developing a reaction plan if a second COVID-19 wave were to hit later in the fall.

“The whole situation’s fluid,” Slavin said. “It really depends on where we’re at when we begin.”

As that planned start date approaches, the league has also gotten creative with its finances.

Even with its season cancellation, CSL still has expenses: Slavin’s executive director salary, weekly field maintenance and membership dues to the NCYSA, which provides insurance certification, coach and referee training and background checks for volunteers.

In its May 4 announcement, CSL outlined three options for families who’d registered for the spring season: donating all or some of the fee to help the league during the pandemic; carrying over the spring fee and applying it to the fall season; or receiving a full refund.

Berg, a longtime area coach who’s volunteered with CSL for 20 years, said some board members were worried about the league’s financial stability if full refunds were offered.

But the result, Berg said, was roughly a “30-30-30 divide.” A majority of families either donated their fees or carried them over to the fall. One family, Slavin said, donated their fees even though their teenage child will have aged out of the league by the time next season begins.

“Our general membership supported the organization in a way that we’re going to be sustained,” Berg said. “That was a good surprise. The bottle-half-full guys kind of won over the bottle-half-empty guys in that way.”

CSL has applied for grants, too, including a United Way grant through Chatham County’s Parks & Recreation Department. It’s already received some funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which will pay Slavin’s salary for eight weeks, and is actively seeking further donations from its membership.

Slavin, who also directs CSL’s club teams and coaches Northwood men’s soccer, said he’s been inspired by the community support as the program works out kinks and gears up for its potential restart.

“It’s something we’ve never dealt with before,” he said. “So being best prepared, having contingency plans is all you can really do — make sure you’re prepared, and be ready to change again.”

“When the pandemic passes, we’ll still be here,” Berg added. “We’ve been here for 25 years, and we’re going to continue to make the game possible for the kids and do it with best practice through our state association.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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