While America awaits word on professional sports restarting this summer, Duluth parents learned Thursday that the likelihood of their children’s sports leagues restarting is almost null and void.
With the Little League World Series and statewide American Legion baseball previously among the cancellations and local soccer associations already having called off tournament and league play this summer, youth baseball and softball organizers had a virtual meeting with Duluth city officials Thursday to discuss prospects of any activities taking place.
The news wasn’t encouraging.
City officials told organizers that budgetary constraints, and not necessarily the COVID-19 pandemic, would prevent fields from being maintained the rest of the summer. City fields are currently closed until July 1. Because of pandemic-related impacts on the regional economy, the city expects an eight-figure budget shortfall caused by reduced tax collections and has laid off dozens of employees across several departments.
“Because of a lack of workforce, they aren’t going to maintain either Wheeler or Wade (fields) this summer for us to play games on. As of now, we have no fields to play games on,” said Duluth East softball coach Dennis Peterson, who is president of the Arrowhead Girls Fastpitch League. “It was very disappointing. The high school season was what it was and it’s just continuing right on through the summer.”
The Minnesota State High School League canceled spring varsity sports due to implications of coronavirus.
While a few fields exist that are maintained by volunteers, they are not nearly enough to allow the 80 softball teams between U-8 and U-18 divisions that usually sign up to play summer ball, Peterson said.
The office of Gov. Tim Walz last week released Phase II guidelines for youth sports, which allows training in groups of 10 or less, with a coach-to-player ratio of 1:9. That training can begin statewide June 1 but there will be no competitive seasons at that time.
“Whatever I do this summer would just be player development and skill training,” Peterson said.
The Minnesota Youth Soccer Association and the Twin Cities Soccer League pulled the plug on summer play May 21, meaning the Gitchi Gummi Soccer Club had to cancel its season and the Head of the Lakes Tournament while East Select Soccer called off its Lake Superior Open.
While local soccer associations will not participate in any tournaments or league play, officials are hopeful of holding youth clinics once city fields open up after July 1.
East Select players receive two training sessions per week over Zoom, Duluth East girls soccer coach Steve Polkowski said.
“Even that starts to wear out over time because there’s only so much you can do on the computer with one ball and a kid at home,” Polkowski said.
The Minnesota State High School League has extended by a week to Aug. 7 the deadline that coaches can interact with their players.
“Everyone is raring to get going, but you have to do it smartly and safely because we don’t need this (COVID-19) extending on into the fall,” Polkowski said.
For local youth hockey players, players will be allowed to return to area rinks next week and engage in two groups of 10 for skill development. Each group needs to stay in its own end of the ice and not play any games until the next phase begins.
The news is somewhat more encouraging across the bridge. The Superior Youth Organization sent out an email to parents Thursday stating it is going to start baseball and softball practice June 15.
Since youth programs are in the first phase of a return to play, not more than 20 players and coaches can be on the field at any one time so no games would be played until the second phase kicks in when as many as 50 people can gather in one place.
The SYO is refunding original registration fees due to the changes and holding a new registration beginning this weekend and running through June 7.
Basketball players are not as lucky.
Since Wisconsin-Superior has a policy of no on-campus activity until July 30, the usual summer leagues and camps there will not be held.
UWS men’s basketball coach Greg Polkowski, who organizes the activities, says it’s possible some camps could be held in August once the ban ends. Camps were normally held in June and July for up to 200 youths in third grade through high school.
“We won’t have a chance to do anything with (youth groups) until early August and even that is in question right now,” Polkowski said.