Center field looks like a dystopian scene. First graders in masks put their hands together in prayer as sun glints of dew in the grass. This is the new standard of youth sports in COVID-19.
Catholic Youth Council sports has been in St. Louis since 1941 and has never cancelled a season of youth activities. Some thought that 2020 would be the first year their children would go without fall sports, but CYC made the decision to play the season out with specific guidelines. Already there have been cancellations and postponements due to the pandemic, and the schedule is tight to get a full season before the winter.
Referee, coach and coordinator Mark Hassimier is a long time representative of Holy Redeemer in youth soccer and advocates for safe practices both on and off the field.
“At the end of the day, safety is our priority,” Hassimier said to a group of new referees in the Holy Redeemer parking lot.
CYC has provided guidelines, but there is no set of rules as of this moment. Masks are required for coaches on the field, and children are expected to wear them during the pregame prayer and while on the bench. There are long delays in between games to avoid contact between players and teams.
Referees are responsible for cleaning the ball and bench with sanitizer and ensuring the guidelines are followed.
Although precautions mid-game are important, a lot of the preventative measures take place off the field. Teams are expected to perform temperature checks on kids and parents, and parents are expected to tell the league if they have come into contact with Coronavirus. The league tracks cases and teams are not allowed to play if their roster hasn’t completed an online survey within 30 minutes of kickoff.
Spectators are also affected by these measures, with limits on viewers being put in place. The CYC website says that there is a, “limit of one spectator per athlete,” however young children and pets are made an exception to this rule. Spectators are required to wear masks and social distance, with many bringing lawn chairs instead of sitting on the bleachers at the sideline of the field.
Although these rules are in place, young children often misunderstand or aren’t informed. First graders struggle to wear their mask on the bench and not fiddle around with them, and on the field lower grade play is “like magnet ball,” Hassemier said, meaning that the young players form a tight mass around the ball, not ideal to stop the spread of COVID.
Referees are expected to enforce the rules. If teams haven’t filled out the pre-game covid form, then they simply can’t play. There is no post-season or city-county championship, so teams have less pressure during the main season, however these frequent cancellations are making it harder to fill out weekend games and schedules.
The only thing certain this season is uncertainty. Teams, rules and schedules are shifting to match the COVID crisis. Youth sports is trying not to play catch-up as the final whistle of the winter season gets ever closer.
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