The Future of Youth Sports During a Pandemic

After all of the unfortunate events following the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Easton and Redding communities have been fortunate enough to have playing fields and outdoor sites where local youth can continue to play.

The Boys & Girls Club of Easton-Redding has multiple sporting teams. and the pandemic did not stop all of them from continuing their seasons. The baseball, field hockey and softball programs have been able to continue playing.

According to Joseph Dolan, Boys & Girls Club executive director, young athletes are continuing their activities with the necessary protective guidelines in place to keep them safe. “When state restrictions were lifted in June, moving to Phase 2 of reopening, we were able to restart and run our baseball and softball programs for spring and extending through the summer,” said Dolan. “We are now running fall programs for baseball, softball and also field hockey. These programs are all outdoors and have been running with Covid-19- enhanced safety guidelines in place.”

With the Redding-Easton Basketball Association (REBA) program preparing to get underway, the program was worried about having enough athletes return to fill each team in all age groups. According to Kristen “Kri” Tartaglia, a mother and program leader, the club is now confident about opening the rest of the winter and fall sports.

“My biggest concern as both a program leader and a mom was making sure we do everything possible to field eight teams and run our regular program this winter,” said Tartaglia. “Our goal is to offer a season, even if it is modified, so we can keep kids interested.”

Paul Tymniak is a father and a leader along with Tartaglia. They organize practice and game schedules as well as team tryouts and coaching hires. Tymniak is concerned about gym space availability to hold practice for the youth basketball teams.

“Typically, the gyms we practice in are owned by public schools in town, and because of the coronavirus we aren’t able to use those gyms with the concerns of cleaning availability and social distancing,” said Tymniak. “So, right now we are waiting for the health directors to give us the OK.”

According to Dolan, “We are now working toward a possible delayed start at best for our indoor basketball program for late fall and winter, and it remains unclear if state and local health authorities are going to allow use of local gyms, making it very difficult to make plans for the season.”

In addition to trying to figure out gym accommodations, REBA organizers have to address parents’ concerns about taking the necessary precautions during the pandemic. “A number of questions that I’ve been dealing with are like if we’re able to get gym space and play, what are we going to do to keep everyone safe,” said Tymniak. “There’s a number of stuff the AAU programs around here have put in place to operate safely, so we will obviously adopt those if we are able to get into the gyms.”

REBA players attending a Fairfield University basketball game.—Chris Rotondo photo

Although there are a few logistical concerns about the upcoming season, program leaders are encouraged but the fact that many young athletes have found ways to keep physically active. “A number of our kids do play year-round basketball or at least two other sports in the offseason,” said Tymniak. “They might have forgotten a few plays, but they’re going to be in shape from staying active.”

Parents like Tartaglia have been encouraging their kids to stay active by participating in family activities, AAU teams, and small group lessons that were not connected to a specific team. “Early on, we took walks with our dog together daily, and also asked our kids to spend a certain amount of time outside each day,” said Tartaglia. “We researched and encouraged them to play AAU both this summer and fall, and we organized and hosted sessions at our house for a group of girls with a professional coach.”

The program held tryouts in mid-October, and enough athletes have returned to the REBA program to fill boys’ and girls’ teams at fifth, sixth, seventh, and eight grade levels. This is a good sign for non-profit organizations like the BGCRE and ECC that sponsor and administer youth sports programs.

“If five or 10 kids in the right age group decided not to play, we would not have been able to fill our teams,” said Tymniak. “We are sponsored by two non-profits, so between the two it would be beneficial to them if we were able to run [the program], and they were able to have the revenue to continue to do what they do for the community.”

Given the ongoing difficulty securing gym space at local public facilities with any degree of certainty, the ECC will be administering the REBA program for the 2020-2021 season, including hosting all of the home games and practices at its Sport Hill Road facilities.

“It’s my hope that we can make the most of what this season has to offer and that we maintain enough momentum to continue next year,” said Tartaglia.

More information about the many programs offered by the BGCRE and the Easton Community Center can be found on their respective websites: http://www.rbgc.net and https://eastoncommunitycenter.com.   

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