Youth sports leagues ditch summer plans as pandemic lingers

The front diamond at the Police Athletic League, in Huntington, sits empty on Thursday, April 16. The diamond will remain that way throughout the summer, as the PAL has canceled its baseball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other local sports leagues have canceled their seasons as well.
The front diamond at the Police Athletic League, in Huntington, sits empty on Thursday, April 16. The diamond will remain that way throughout the summer, as the PAL has canceled its baseball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other local sports leagues have canceled their seasons as well. Photo by Steve Clark.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into late April, youth sports leagues in Huntington County have decided to cancel their seasons.

In Huntington, Huntington County Baseball (HCB) and the Police Athletic League (PAL) have decided to suspend their operations this summer. Andrews Lions Club Baseball, which is an affiliate of the PAL, has followed suit.

In Roanoke, Roanoke Youth Sports (RYS) has not only called off its baseball season, but abandoned plans to hold a soccer season, too.
Matt Hughes, the PAL’s director, says his league took a wait-and-see approach with the pandemic, delaying a decision on the season for as long as possible, just in case conditions improved.

However, the league simply ran out of time, he says.

“We had a timeline of when the latest time we could probably possibly start was,” says Hughes. “And that’s right around now.”
Jeff Phillips, the president of HCB’s board of directors, echoes Hughes’ comments.

“We just felt that this wasn’t going to resolve in time for us to put a league together,” he states.

Phillips says holding a modified season, where measures to thwart the transmission of COVID-19 were implemented, was not a realistic alternative.

“You can’t keep six feet apart with 8-year-old kids in a dugout,” he says. “We just had no way to control the social-distancing aspect of what’s required.”

Phillips shares that the decision to cancel the season was especially stinging because it would have been HCB’s 70th season and the league had planned to celebrate that milestone over the course of the summer.

Now, the league will look to celebrate that accomplishment next season instead.

“This is my 34th year,” says Phillips of his involvement with HCB. “And it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

John Nelson, director of RYS, says his league decided to call off its baseball season for scheduling reasons, just as HCB and the PAL did.

“It dawned on us that, even by May 1, we might not be able to start games,” he observes. “As our season was slated to be done around the Fourth of July, our schedule was getting more and more compressed.”

Nelson notes that the decision to waive the RYS soccer season was more difficult, as it does not start until late July. However, he says the league ultimately made that call because, even if the COVID-19 situation improves, he and league organizers did not believe soccer would be on families’ radars.

“If that veil of social distancing is lifted and suddenly people can start getting back to their lives, folks have missed out on so many different things – vacations, working, 4-H – all sorts of different activities are suddenly going to fill all those voids,” he says. “And we just weren’t very confident that soccer would be a real high priority.”

Still, Nelson regrets that RYS will not be operating this year.

“It crushes us, just truly crushes us, to close, because it brings so much joy to so many different people,” he says.

Nelson, Phillips and Hughes say that their leagues will be offering refunds on registration fees. However, they note that those fees can be applied toward the cost of registering next season.

Hughes says the PAL is grateful when parents and guardians allow the league to retain registration fees, as it gives the organization the funds it needs to maintain its facilities.

“Obviously, we have operation costs that continue even without the league going,” he explains. “So, anybody that wants to forward that payment to next year, it’s obviously going to help the PAL Club this year.”

Nelson, Phillips and Hughes agree that their leagues would contemplate holding baseball games in late summer, or perhaps early fall, if the severity of the pandemic appreciably diminishes.

“The timing’s going to have to be perfect for it,” says Hughes for the PAL. “I’m definitely not opposed to it. Just kind of assess where COVID is at that point and what the parameters are with restrictions and all that stuff and what time of year it is.”

Nelson says that even if RYS does not hold baseball games, it may offer non-sports events, such as cookouts or ice cream socials.

“Just for the benefit of just trying to bring some kind of normal life back to what is quickly becoming a lost summer,” he says.

As of April 16, Warren Baseball and Softball was still planning on holding a season, according to the league’s page on Facebook, facebook.com/WarrenBaseballSoftball. League organizers listed May 1 as the tentative start date for games.