A shaving cream party, ice cream socials, family breakfasts and team dinners happen to share the same lane as competitive swimming.
“The fun social events for the kids give them time to socialize and do something besides just swimming with their teammates, to build more of that team spirit,” says Dixie Nance, a stay-at-home mom whose three children belong to SAIL, the Swim Association Invitational League.
This summer, though, thousands of parents like Nance, along with their athletes, ages 3 through 19 and enrolled in swimming, soccer and baseball, among a variety of other area youth-sports programs, have faced off against a far more threatening rival: COVID-19.
For its part, SAIL conducted virtual meets this season, using a mobile app to compare athletes’ individual times from different pools. From the end of May through July 25 each year, the Greenville County league typically pools some 4,500 swimmers and 1,700 families.
“We tried to keep the season as normal as possible for the kids, despite having to swim only in their own pool and not getting to compete against the other team in person,” SAIL executive committee member Jaime Mogle says.
Government guidelines, masks, social distancing and, of course, the great outdoors have kept the novel coronavirus off the field and out of the pool, youth-sports directors say.
“You’ve just got to try to marry together getting them back on the field with the protocols we’ve got in place, trying obviously to keep players, parents and our own coaches safe,” says Andrew Hyslop, co-executive director of the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy, or CESA.
Billed as the state’s largest youth soccer club with about 3,500 players in roughly 300 teams, CESA began “social-distance training” on June 1. Phased-in workouts started in August, with a hopeful eye toward a fall season.
“We obviously knew we’d be out for kind of an indefinite period of time, but we knew we would come back at some point,” Hyslop says, adding that contingency planning began even before Gov. Henry McMaster issued a statewide “home or work order” in early April; some state restrictions have since been lifted.
“The majority of people are quite willing to do whatever is necessary to give their kids an opportunity to play,” Hyslop says.
Northwood Little League, with a lineup of more than 650 young ballplayers in the spring and typically half that number in the fall, was also forced to prematurely end its season — and for some youngsters, their Little League careers.
“We want to align with the mission of Little League and what Little League is, but also keeping in mind the safety of the kids and the safety of the parents and the grandparents and the siblings that are going to be there to watch,” league president Jenn Chew says.
Despite disappointment among children and their families, she says parents still stepped up to the plate.
Meanwhile, as summer draws to a close and Greenville County Schools opened Aug. 24 with a hybrid of in-person and online classes, parents like Nance now turn their concerns to high school athletics.
“It’s a big part of their lives,” she says of her teen swimmers.
While she agrees that COVID-19 remains a threat, and her family follows health and safety guidelines, she says, “I feel as a parent, it is important to continue with the things you love to do. Being outside and being healthy is one of the most important things to me.”
Greenville County COVID-19 guidelines for youth sports
Here is a sampling of guidelines for youth athletics:
- Maintain 6 feet of social distance in all common, sideline and spectator areas.
- Follow protocols including mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing.
- At Greenville County athletic facilities, only two spectators per player and cheerleader are allowed at games; all bleachers are closed until further notice.
- BYOB chairs, snacks and water; water fountains are closed.
- Avoid high-fives, midfield handshakes and other contact greetings; bring hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
- Establish an area for players to leave their gear and personal items 6 feet apart; sanitize equipment often.
- Keep practice groups small, preferably no more than 15.
- Parents and guardians are encouraged to remain in their vehicles during practice.
- Sidelines and the game field are strictly for coaches. Parents and spectators are not allowed on the field before, during or after a game.
- If you experience symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19 or believe you may be at risk, stay home. Keep your children at home under the same circumstances.
Source: Greenville County Rec