Update: Little leagues in limbo for now

Trinity senior Andrew Pfeiffer fires home in a playoff matchup with Gladstone High School at The William S Hart Pony Baseball and Softball Complex in 2019. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Adds statement for LA County Department of Public Health

By Claire Cornelius
For The Signal

Youth sports officials seeking clarity from Los Angeles County about a safe return to the fields expressed frustration this week over their desire for a timeline needed to plan and prioritize health concerns, volunteers and potentially conflicting schedules.

Youth leagues around the Santa Clarita Valley are waiting for direction on reopening procedures from the L.A. County Department of Public Health in order to start mapping out plans for a possible fall season.

County Public Health officials indicated their ability to make a decision was dependent upon approval from the state:

 “The state will let us know when these sport activities will re-open,” according to a statement Friday from the Department of Public Health.

“I can’t get approval to open up the complex,” said Randy Sreden, commissioner for the William S. Hart Baseball and Softball leagues, adding that when he sought help from city officials, he was told that, in terms of opening up the 10-field facility, their hands are tied by the county’s Public Health order. (City officials have opened public parks, which is allowed under the current Public Health order, but the diamonds are not considered public property, and therefore restricted.)

Sreden said he understands the precautions, and for him, the big concern wasn’t the $15,000 a month in losses that are being accrued in utility costs, or the $250,000 he estimates that was lost when the league committed to refund parents.

The league’s governing board would be able to survive the losses due to cutbacks, a reserve fund and the contributions of the community. But he wanted to give kids the opportunity to play and learn, which is the reason why he and many others donate their time to run the leagues that serve about 1,600 SCV families. And there’s a bit of planning and scheduling involved, in addition to countless volunteer hours, that have to be planned.

Some idea of a timeline is critical, because a youth sports league can just be opened up in the way a gym or a salon can, he said.

Consequently, Sreden said there’s potential they can plan a return, possibly even get a Thursday-Sunday league going, if he can hear from county officials by July 1. But even then, it’s uncertain now if the league would have to compete with football, soccer or basketball — or face an abbreviated season, which is also why the guidance would help. 

Similar challenges

The Santa Clarita Youth Baseball league is facing similar challenges.

“The ballpark is at an L.A. County park so we’ll get an update of when we can reopen, just like we did when we had to close down back in mid-March,” said James Nuttall, president of Santa Clarita Youth Baseball. “We go on the advice of the county Health Department and they notify us. So we’re at the whim of what L.A. County decides.”

As people become more educated about the risks, it’s important that everyone understands their own personal risks, and make decisions based on that, according to Dr. Bud Lawrence, medical director of emergency care at Henry Mayo.

“I think people need to understand so they can move forward with their lives,” Lawrence said. “I think asking for a timeline is reasonable, and I think how the different agencies decide to come up with that timeline is going to be an interesting piece,” he added, mentioning the California Interscholastic Federation and other governing bodies as an example. “But I certainly think it’s reasonable to ask for a timeline.”

The Hart Pony leagues reached out to parents via Facebook, and the consensus is that parents would be willing to try a socially distanced return in the near future, Sreden said, estimating that while maybe half had some concerns, a majority of those he’s communicated with are still willing to try a return.

Hart Pony league parent Madi Alpern said her main concern would be implementing more sanitation to the bleachers at each field, but she feels as though she understands the situation  and risks a lot better now. 

“It was scarier when obviously we didn’t know too much about it (COVID-19), but now that we know a lot, we’re seeing that it’s not as fatal as it was made out to be at the beginning, so I’m not really concerned because we’re all pretty healthy,” she said. “I’m excited to get him back out.”

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