The current COVID situation regarding sports simmers down to 2 options. 

1) Wait for a vaccine

2) Learn to live with COVID, while being socially responsible until a vaccine is readily available. 

I prefer the 2nd option. 

Last week I watched a domino fall as East Hardy County Little League officially canceled the 2020 season. I understand why they decided to cancel (please don’t insult my intelligence), but I wanted to know the real reason why they canceled (never mind, go ahead and insult my intelligence). 

-Liability? 

-Lack of adequate facilities? 

-Fear of the unknown? 

Right or wrong, I strongly disagree with the decision. 

East Hardy canceled before they even tried to formulate a solution. Easier to quit, put your hands up and do nothing, than to figure out a plan on how to get it done. 

Personally I don’t want that ‘chicken’ mentality crossing the road into Hampshire County. 

I don’t know about those Pilgrims, but I have pride that Hampshire can rekindle youth athletics. 

This proposal is for families wanting to play youth baseball and softball this summer.  

For those families unwilling to participate for fear of COVID, no hard feelings. Every situation is unique and although your opinion may differ from mine, I believe we are both looking for the same results in these unknown times – do what’s best for your family. 

Perhaps the easiest sport to play under the parameters of social distancing is baseball/softball. American Legion Post 91 manager Josh Crawford shared his thoughts: “I think baseball is the easiest sport to find a socially responsible way to play because of how far each player is from one another.”

Crawford continued, “With modifications, it should not be too difficult to figure out a way for players, coaches and umpires to acceptably socially distance themselves from one another.”

I am in strong agreement with Coach Crawford, which is why I offer the following reasons on why Hampshire County Little League should play ball this summer:

—The COVID environment in Hampshire: For 65+ days, over 20,000 county residents have experienced only 12 total cases, which means 99.9% of residents have not tested positive for COVID-19. Simply stated, West Virginia’s oldest county is in spectacular shape to move forward and open up athletic competition.

—Facilities: The layout and landscape of the HCLL fields allow for social distance play. 

—Physical health: Running, laughing, jumping, throwing, catching, stretching, smiling and swinging a bat are all tools to help build strong immune systems. 

—Mental health: Friendly competition amongst neighbors and rivals, working hard as a team to achieve a common goal, learning how to win or lose, are all vital parts of child development.

—Pride of leadership: Hampshire can demonstrate how to play sports in a socially responsible way, building pride locally and giving hope to nearby communities.

The Guidelines 

—All players and coaches must maintain 6 feet of social distancing.  Teams can allow 3 players in the dugout at a time.  All other players will spread 6 feet out on the side of each dugout and down the fence lines. 

(See pictures) 

—In order to keep exposure to a minimum there will only be 1 game played at a time between both fields.

—No players or coaches may enter the dugouts until all other players’ equipment etc. is out and the benches are sanitized. No players may share equipment.  Benches will be sanitized between each game. Umpires will sanitize the balls or use new balls every half inning.  

—There can be no handshakes or fist bumps before or after the games. 

—Mound visits must maintain 6-foot distances.  Base coaches must also maintain 6-foot distances and cannot touch a runner or player on or off the field. 

—No coaches will be allowed on the field to disagree or argue a call. Aggressive and consistent arguments will be grounds for immediate ejection.

—Catchers and base runners will be encouraged but not required to wear a mask. 

—All base runners shall try to avoid contact with defensive players. With that in mind, runners must remain on base. Stealing will only be allowed on passed balls, in which the runner can advance 1 base. 

—All umpiring will be done behind the pitching mound with 6+ feet of spacing.(See Pictures)

—No team water will be allowed.  All individual player bottles must be marked with the player’s name.

—Fan groups must maintain 6+ feet of separation along the outfield fence. Sitting on the bleachers will not be permitted. Fans may sit on top of the hill to view games as well. 

—Any instances not listed above will be left up to the discretion of the HCLL site director or person in charge.  

All teams and coaches must adhere to these rules for the safety of everyone involved.  All coaches will be held responsible for their players and parents.  If a team or parent is found breaking these rules your team may be asked to forfeit the game.

With the agreed upon procedures put in place, it is possible to play baseball and softball in a socially responsible way. 

Although some issues have been figured out, there are still others up for debate on how to best proceed forward.  These challenges don’t necessarily impact the play of the game, yet they do impact the experience of being at the ballpark.

Challenges: 

—No bathrooms: This is a TOUGH call. Until a detailed process on cleaning restrooms has been presented, it’s a no go on bathrooms. Needless to say, this is a bigger problem for females, as the males have plenty of woods nearby. 

—No concessions: Any area that encourages group gatherings is on temporary hiatus. The walking tacos, bags of popcorn, ring pops, hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks will have to wait. 

—Enforcement: A bouncer is a must. Whether the league president is the one to take that role, or an off-duty police officer volunteering his time, having someone capable to enforce the rules is mandatory. 

This job is not the responsibility of the umpire, as he/she will maintain focus on the field.  This job involves someone willing to play the role of ‘bad guy’ and make spectators adhere to the agreed upon rules.

Assuming Gov. Jim Justice allows for sports to make a return on June 8, a plan like this should be in place so fans and players alike can hear those 2 magical words: “Play ball!”

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