Certain Youth Sports Retake Their Fields With COVID Rules In Place


BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – Several sports deemed “low risk” by the state were allowed to resume play Monday, though with enforcement of added guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A local sports facility better known for winter sports is also reopening, but on a limited and restricted basis.

A pair of spectators watch a midnight-hour baseball game Monday morning in the Town of Clarence. Certain youth sports were allowed to reopen Monday. Clarence officials lit up one of its fields to allow graduating high school seniors, who lost their varsity season to the pandemic, a chance to be the first to play upon the reopening. CREDIT PHOTO BY RON KIENER/USED WITH PERMISSION

Baseball, softball, field hockey, rowing, cross country and gymnastics programs were allowed to reopen. One local baseball association hosted its first play just one minute after midnight Monday morning. The Town of Clarence Baseball Association illuminated one of its fields so that Clarence High School seniors, denied a varsity season due to the pandemic, could get one last time together on the diamond.

Dan Brinkerhoff, board president of the Town of Clarence Baseball Association, explained that fellow board member Dave Smith, who is also the head coach of Clarence High School varsity baseball, wanted to stage one last opportunity for the seniors to get a proper sendoff. That was unable to happen, though, until the town offered up one of its fields.

“We were going to do it, but we couldn’t use a school field, because everything was shut down,” Brinkerhoff explained. “So we got permission from the town to do that game on their fields, and then the more we talked about it, we thought it’d be great to let them be the first game of the day. And we have lights on one field here at Clarence, so the idea was tossed around to do it right after midnight. So, that’s what we did.”

Clarence town baseball’s “house leagues,” those which play their games exclusively within the town facilities, typically start in April and end around the Independence Day holiday, according to Brinkerhoff. Those leagues and the “travel” leagues will both put in adjusted seasons that are expected to run through the end of August.

Those who are playing, though, will need to adhere to a series of “return to play” rules that require minimal physical contact on the field – no high fives and handshakes, for example – and emphasis on physical distancing off the diamond.

“What we’re seeing in other organizations, as well as ours, is they’re limiting spectators per athlete. Typically it’s two per athlete, so that’s a good way to keep your numbers down and safe,” Brinkerhoff said.

Even the players will be held to distancing when not in action.

“If the players are on the bench, when it’s their turn to bat and can’t maintain the proper social distancing, they have to wear a mask. And if there’s somebody on the team whose parents don’t want their child to wear a mask, or they can’t wear a mask for health reasons, then we’re asking them to socially distance themselves away from the entire bench.”

Spectators are urged to bring lawn chairs to help with distancing and will be discouraged from using the bleachers.

Spectators will not be allowed at all inside Northtown Center at Amherst, which is resuming limited operations this week on two of its four ice rinks.

“We are scheduling rentals in one-hour-on, one-hour-off increments so that we have an hour in between rentals to sanitize areas used by our patrons,” said Brad Waltz, recreation supervisor for the Town of Amherst, which operates the Northtown Center.

Sessions will have a maximum of 25 people on the ice at a time, including coaches and instructors, and the skating is limited to skills-related drills and practices. No hockey games or scrimmages are allowed at this time.

Additionally, participants must arrive at the rink already dressed in their equipment, because locker rooms remain closed. Waltz says socially-distanced benches have been placed along the hallways leading to the ice, where participants may put on their skates. Another rule requires that patrons wear a mask any time they’re not involved in on-ice exercise.

The additional rules have not subdued the requests for ice time.

The demand has been excellent. I’ve been very busy all day,” Waltz said. “We’re filling up. We have two rinks up and running right now. Depending on demand, we may or may not put our third one in, in the coming weeks. But yes, it’s been it’s been very busy.”

Outdoors, there’s a similar feeling of relief that, even with some changes, at least games may now be played.

“We got a lot of positive feedback,” Brinkerhoff said. “Of course we’ve got people that dropped out because they were concerned, and rightfully so, for health reasons or vacations or whatever. But the overwhelming majority stuck with us and they’re going to be rewarded tonight, hopefully.”