Youth sports starting to return with safety measures

For all the emphasis on what professional and collegiate sports will look like when they get back on the field, the immediate future of youth sports might affect the summer plans of even more Americans.

"I missed baseball a lot," said 10-year-old Brody Conner. "I thought we were going to miss the whole season. It feels good to be back out."

Conner and his Paulding County Chiefs teammates were among the youth baseball teams practicing on Tuesday at LakePoint Sports in Emerson. Along with the return of bats and gloves came a host of new rules designed to keep players, spectators and staff safe during coronavirus.

"It's definitely pretty weird not going in the dugout," said Conner of one change he noticed. "When we got here, we walked in the dugout, they're like, 'no dugout!' We stepped back out."

Players staying outside dugouts to maintain social distance is just one change the multi-sport facility put in place as they work to reopen.

"It's an exciting time," said LakePoint president and CEO Mark O'Brien. "That's truly what it is, it's time."

After shutting down activities in March due to COVID-19, LakePoint hosted their first baseball practices last Thursday night. On Tuesday, they allowed a limited number of spectators in to watch. Baseball was the first activity allowed back, with other fields and facilities gradually reopening. Currently, fields are available for teams to rent; no tournaments or games right now. 

O'Brien says LakePoint followed local, state and federal guidelines to reopen safely, and says they are continuing to look for resources within the industry for new ideas. Signs around the facilities remind people of the guidelines, including on the video boards. Safety precautions include enhanced and more frequent sanitizatin, training for staff, new equipment for cleaning and restricting the number of people allowed at the facility.

"We're probably at about 10% [of normal activity]," said O'Brien. "It's a really slower pace. We want to crawl, walk, before we start running again."

O'Brien says one of the keys to making the process work is buy-in from the teams using the facility for their practices and, eventually, games and tournaments.

"It's a challenge," said Paulding County Chiefs coach Justin Long. "You try not to overlook things. We've not been in a tournament situation when there's a lot of people around. When we get to that point, we'll assess and see how it goes."

As for the "youth" in youth sports, they're just happy to be back doing what they love.

"I can't wait until we get back to normal," said Conner. "We can roll with this for now."