By Greg Oliver
CLEMSON — Athletic events nationwide are among activities that have been shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recreation sports aren’t exempt either, though local directors remain hopeful that spring sports can resume at some point.
“Absolutely,” Seneca Recreation Department director Rick Lacey said. “We hope to do a short baseball season, but we’re at the mercy of the state telling us what and what not to do.
“Nobody likes to see an empty field worse than I do, but if we can’t do anything by June, that would probably end it for spring sports this year.”
Walhalla Recreation Department director John Galbreath said he is waiting to see what happens after April 30 as far as whether things will open back up.
“May 11 is the date Dixie (Youth Baseball) gave us on when we could start games,” Galbreath said. “We’re kind of on hold until April 30. If that date is extended, we’ll have to re-evaluate.”
Even if limits are lifted at the end of the month, Galbreath said two weeks of practice would be necessary before players would be ready to start the season. While acknowledging that a short season could begin in June, the rec director pointed out that scenario also creates its own set of problems.
“It starts to run into fall signups and people being out of town,” Galbreath said. “I have a feeling people are going to go (on vacation) and participation numbers may drop. If this thing is over, we will have to see how many kids want to play. That’s the reason rec ball is wrapped up before graduation.”
Westminster Recreation Department director Herb Poole said COVID-19 has already led to the cancellation of his department’s spring volleyball season.
“They were able to practice a few weeks, have a scrimmage or two and play a couple of games before we had to cancel,” Poole said. “We had 13 teams made up of approximately 120 girls, ages 7-17, and it was amazing to see the effort and passion shown by our coaches and players to prepare for the season. We were hoping that they will all participate in our fall league.”
Poole said uniforms had yet to be ordered and that teams were in the process of being divided up for T-ball, baseball and softball when Dixie Youth Baseball recommended that the leagues postpone the start of their seasons. More than 200 kids had signed up for the programs.
“The local leagues as well as the organizations that we belong to are cautiously optimistic that we will have spring sports this season,” he said. “Each day we are making preparations for the season to begin. We are all hoping it’s sooner rather than later.”
Clemson Parks and Recreation director Jay Bennett said, “we are going to do everything we can to offer our children a baseball and softball season.”
“When and if all of this breaks, the kids and parents will need an outlet for sports,” Bennett said.
Bennett added that Dixie Youth Baseball has a plan in place to play games in May and June with tournaments to follow in July and August.
“The regular season is our major priority, but that all hinges on when (South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster) lifts the three-person gathering limit and the country is opened back up,” he said.
Central Recreation Department director Tom Cloer said both Bolick Field and Central Community Park have remained open for those wanting to take walks or even go on the field to hit baseballs “as long as there’s not an organized group and is less than three (people).”
With the exception of Westminster, the Seneca, Walhalla, Clemson and Central recreation departments have already ordered uniforms for spring sports. The cost for Seneca is estimated between $8,000 and $10,000 for baseball, softball and flag football for 500 to 600 participants. Walhalla’s estimated cost is between $7,000 and $8,000 for baseball and softball. Clemson, meanwhile, is around $8,000 for both sports, and Central is around $4,000 for flag football alone.
Should COVID-19 extend into fall sports, football — estimated between $9,000 and 10,000 in costs — would be the sport most affected.
“In regular football, just in helmets alone, we spent almost $9,000,” Cloer said. “When you get a helmet, you can’t just stick it on a shelf and reuse it (after the season ends). It has to be reconfigured.”
The Central recreation director said notes have been sent to all parents informing them that they will either be able to continue with the season or cancel the season, and refunds will be offered at the appropriate time.
“We’re trying to hang in there as long as possible,” he said. “My office is full of baseball uniforms and flag football uniforms. We’re holding onto every thread of hope we can, but these are unprecedented times.”
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