GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The grass is clipped but the bleachers are bare and will continue to be empty for the rest of the summer. Georgetown County has opted to pass on America’s pastime.
Four booster clubs run youth baseball and softball in the county and after hearing the guidelines for operating amid COVID-19, the non-profits saw no way forward.
Jason Ward is the president of the Georgetown Baseball/Softball Booster Club and says no one wanted to cancel the season, but the physical and financial risks were too great.
“No concession stand sales. A limit of 50 people in the park at a time. We would have to log everybody in and out – names, addresses, times they were in, times that they were out,” Ward says describing the guidelines. “Really it put a lot on the boards that govern the rec programs.”
Georgetown is somewhat unique in that the volunteer organizations run the programs with little help from a county or city government. Because there is not a larger organization at the helm, liability is a huge issue.
“I don’t know the exact increase in insurance if we had played but it was described to as ‘skyrocketing’,” Ward said.
There are nearly 900 kids that play for the four groups. Ward says that is a lot of kids, parents and fans buying hot dogs and popcorn and without that income, they simply cannot function.
“Sponsorship money gets us going and then the concession stand sales helps us maintain,” Ward said. “That’s how we pay for our umpires.”
The stringent guidelines set forth by the governor requires social distancing. Even in a large park, like 8 Oaks Park, and even in a sport with social distancing seemingly built in, the challenge was simply too great.
“If you’re in a park, you’re going to have close contact. If you’re coaching a kid you are going to have close contact,” Ward said.
While Georgetown will now focus on next year, other youth leagues have found a way to restart.
Barrier Islands Little League in Johns Island will start practices again beginning next week. The league’s president, Todd Rieger, says they’ve had to redo the teams and change the format dramatically, but they will play ball.
The organization had nearly 450 kids sign up for the season back in December. Now they have 200 to 250 kids who have committed to coming back.
Rieger says the teams will be reduced to 10 players, fewer coaches, and only one umpire situated behind the pitcher. Only a few people will be allowed in the dugouts at a time. Kids will act as base coaches or sit in the stands when the dugouts are full.
One of the biggest challenges for Rieger is face masks. Athletes will be encouraged to wear masks, but coaches, parents and volunteers will be required. He says that will take some getting use to.
Any family that chooses to not return to the league will be given a full refund.