They held out hope for two months. But as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, organizers deemed it’s still unsafe to attempt playing youth sports.
Presidents of Franklin Little League Baseball/Softball and the Macon County Soccer Club announced independent decisions last week to cancel their spring sports seasons.
“Tough decision, no doubt,” said Justin Moffitt, president over baseball and softball. “But I think as you can see across the local and state level, and even the national level, it’s in the best interest to do this.”
Ultimately, it came down to safety.
Moffitt said there are still too many unknowns. He consulted with local health director, Kathy McGaha, and took her input into account. Another factor was the school calendar. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has yet to allow students to participate in organized activities.
“We wanted to do our part as a volunteer youth organization, first and foremost, to take care of our youth,” Moffitt said. “Not to put them in any situation or any environment that could hinder them.”
It’s a blow for more than 800 children in the county who were originally signed up to play a spring sport. Soccer had 350 signed up, baseball 300 and softball 170 (which was up for the first time in several years).
Children have been stuck at home for two months. While they might understand these measures are about safety, it’s still a letdown they don’t get to play with their friends.
Parker Ramey, 8, was set to play his third season of baseball in Highlands. His mother, Anna Claire Ramey, broke the news to him over the weekend.
“He was very disappointed. He looks forward to baseball every year,” she said.
“I think he understands – he understands communities are trying to keep everyone safe. At the same time kids look forward to the outdoors, the activities, the sports, the learning and the growth. Even just missing one season makes a big impact in their growth in different sports.”
Christian Stringer, president of the local soccer club, was lining fields for the first games of the season when his phone started ringing like crazy. It was March 12 when the sports world shut down, only two days before the scheduled start of the season for local soccer enthusiasts.
Two months later, the decision was made to cancel the season. Macon County Youth Soccer is under the state’s youth soccer league, which has a mandate in place for no player practice before June 1.
“We were trying to plan if they might change it to the middle of this month, but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna change,” Stringer said. “Based on the guidelines from the governor it didn’t look promising to do much before then.”
Parents will receive a refund of $59 for each player. The base cost of the registration fee was $79, but $20 was already spent by the club to purchase uniforms.
It’s been a logistical nightmare, Stringer said, trying to return everyone their refunds. Some paid cash, some paid with credit cards, and some of those cards have since changed.
Refunds are also being distributed to parents of baseball and softball players.
Stringer said having to pay back registration fees hurts soccer’s budget.
“We had a nice little cushion to be able to do something this season,” he said. “But we can’t go through another.”
Optimism for the fall
While the spring seasons are canceled, soccer and baseball will likely offer fall leagues. Softball won’t be offered in the fall since Moffitt started a youth volleyball league last year.
Nobody knows how much longer social distancing, limits to crowd size and other safety measures will be necessary.
Stringer hopes things get back to normal before the fall and there isn’t a second wave of cases.
“It hurts,” he said. “Hopefully this will pass and people can get out and do stuff on their own during the summer.”
Baseball and softball players might be able social distance on the field, but that doesn’t happen when they tag someone at a base. Players also share equipment and sit together in small dugouts.
“We definitely understand,” Anna Claire Ramey said. “It’s just we wish it would be over.”
Moffitt thanked parents and community members for having patience through multiple delays and, ultimately, the cancellation of the season.
“A special thank you to all of our parents for their understanding and their patience,” he said. “We look forward to next season and making the most out of it as well.”