Are Spring Sports Safe for Kids?

Eric Worley, co-founder and program director of Philadelphia Youth Basketball and Philly Triple Threat, a sports-based youth development program serving young people from underserved communities, also requires his players to mask up at all times, even on the courts, which are indoors. Early on, players were uncomfortable wearing masks while playing, he said. “But as time has elapsed, it’s become quite normal.”

Last May, all of the gyms in the city that his teams used for practice — in recreation centers, district schools and local college campuses — had been shut down. Leagues in nearby suburbs simply switched to private facilities, but Worley’s organization rented the floor of a armory, converted it into two basketball courts and set up a basketball-themed learning pod, where children complete virtual schooling during the day and play pickup games during breaks.

The armory, located in Philadelphia’s city center, has an open floor for drills and a cargo bay door big enough to allow plenty of ventilation. This season, the space also doubles as a practice space for his six competitive teams.

“I really am a firm believer that sports unite people and bring people together in a way that other things just aren’t able to do,” Worley said. “There are so many things in the sport of basketball that translate to life. Learning how to win and lose and do it in stride. Being part of a team.”

Teams are taking other creative approaches to safety in order to stay active this spring. Kauffman prepares “P.P.E. kits” for all of her soccer coaches to use in practices and games. Kits include extra disposable masks, gloves, disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer.

At GMS Gymnastics in Manassas, Va., the gymnasts, who are separated into pods, carry their personal items around the gym in a milk crate. Using hand-held machines they call “foggers,” coaches sprays a disinfectant mist onto the balance beams, uneven bars and floor mats between pod rotations. Parents aren’t allowed inside at meets, so they watch their kids’ events on Zoom from the parking lot.

Al Bazley, president of the West Tampa Little League, in Florida, which reopened this spring for the first time in nearly a year, said he’s seen more financial hardship among families this year than ever before, meaning sponsorships and donations are down. To save money, he personally pressed 250 jerseys rather than rely on third-party vendors.

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