Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Why youth sports' return brings wistfulness and worry
The baseball bounded across the dirt toward the second baseman.
At least, I think it was the second baseman; positions are often irrelevant in t-ball.
“Second! Second!” a coach hollered from the dugout.
The second baseman gathered the ball in his glove, ran toward the baserunner and tagged him for the third out. Applause rang out across the field as little boys in black and gold ran back to the dugout.
It was all so normal.
So wonderful, too.
Similar scenes played out across the city and the state this past week. As Oklahoma continued its reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, sports was among the latest additions to what is now allowed.
Some folks jumped in with both feet, albeit while encouraging people to keep their distance and wash their hands. Last weekend, there were several baseball and softball tournaments played around the metro, and on Monday, numerous leagues opened play.
With great weather early in the week, I decided to go out and see what sports looked like in our new normal.
It was old normal in many ways. There were little kids in jerseys that were just a bit too baggy. There were coaches tapping kids on the helmet. Much of what we have always seen in youth sports is what I saw this week.
And it was refreshing.
Standing beyond the outfield fence at one ballpark, I actually closed my eyes so I could soak in the sounds and the smells of a beautiful spring evening.
Thing is, I knew when I opened my eyes, I would see evidence of our changed world — and everywhere I went, I did.
Bleachers were empty or nearly so. One or two people at the most. At the North Oklahoma City Soccer Club where teams were practicing on nearly every field, the bleachers were even taped off.
Most people who were watching sat in lawn chairs or camping chairs. They were spaced out around the perimeter of the field, and with many leagues asking only one adult to attend per child in an effort to limit the number of people, those efforts seemed to be working.
I was pleasantly surprised.
But at the same time, I was slightly mortified by the lack of face coverings.
I don’t say this to shame anyone. I say this because I want more nights at the ballpark, and I worry a lack of face coverings increases the likelihood that COVID-19 cases will jump, lockdown measures will be re-instituted and sports will go by the wayside again.
Recently, the National Federation of State High School Associations released guidance for opening up high school sports. The group’s first point of emphasis said, “Decreasing potential exposure to respiratory droplets is the guiding principle behind social distancing and the use of face coverings.”
Furthermore, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is additionally ‘advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.’”
The federation then went on to categorize the level of risk by sport, modifying recommendations from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
High-risk sports involve close, sustained contact between athletes and a lack of protective barriers. Football. Wrestling. Lacrosse.
Moderate-risk sports have less contact. That includes basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball and softball.
But here’s the interesting thing — some of those moderate-risk sports would move into the lower-risk category “with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.” That includes baseball and softball.
Would wearing a mask on the field be a bit of a hassle? Sure.
But getting COVID-19 could be way more than that.
Wearing face coverings is even more important when you aren’t able to keep your distance. At some fields, players sat outside the dugout and coaches stood outside the fence. At others, players and coaches were together. Regardless, there is almost bound to be some contact, especially when it comes to the littlest players, who end up bumping into each other on the field all the time.
You know how it goes — the ball gets hit and every kid on the field runs after it.
It’s cute, and it’s fun.
But in the midst of a pandemic, I couldn’t help but cringe a bit when I saw it this week.
I know every activity comes with risk nowadays. Getting groceries. Going to work. Being around extended family. I’m not asking people to live like hermits, but where sports are involved, I am asking for a few more precautions.
I am asking because I want more beautiful nights at the ballpark, not less.
I am asking because I want more normal moments, even if a coach’s instructions or a parent’s cheers are slightly muffled by a mask.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
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