Local youth sport leagues plan to reopen for spring seasons

BRSYSA+softball+players+have+been+practicing+safety+standards+as+they+gear+up+for+a+full+spring+season.

Mike Glover

BRSYSA softball players have been practicing safety standards as they gear up for a full spring season.

Despite a national COVID-19 pandemic for the past year, local youth baseball and softball leagues are saying, “play ball!” Spring traditionally brings sports such as baseball and softball, and leagues are determined to uphold tradition and get youth back onto the fields.

Three local baseball and softball leagues, Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League (BRSLL), Belmont-Redwood Shores Youth Softball Association (BRSYSA), and Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth, are all planning to launch full seasons this upcoming spring. The teams emphasize strict adherence to safety protocols; all three leagues are reassuring families that it will be safe. They hope a return of public confidence will bring registration in the coming weeks so that youth can resume team sports. 

“While there are many things important as we reopen the nation, it seems youth sports are the tip of the spear, and it’s important to everyone. This will lead us forward,” said Dan Dowling, former president of BRSYSA and Carlmont JV softball coach.  

Little League player Joey Revels is eager to get back on the field after nearly a year off due to COVID-19 health restrictions. (Willie Pon)

The COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing shelter-in-place interrupted youth sports as they were just beginning their seasons. While some sports have experimented with limited play, such as fall BRSYSA softball, many kids have not played organized team sports for almost a year.

“Playing before was really fun. Being separated from baseball has helped me realize how much I missed it and made me appreciate it more,” said Joey Revels, a 12-year-old who has been playing in the BRSLL for six years.

Heading into his final year in BRSLL’S Majors division, Revels is thankful for the many hours that league leaders have been spending to find a workable plan to hold a season and clearance from officials to allow this to happen.

On Feb. 22, the California Department of Public Health released permission for youth leagues to hold their seasons as San Mateo County transitioned from the purple tier to the red tier. Given the green light, each of the local leagues is planning for a full season. While approaching their logistics slightly differently, all are emphasizing safety as the highest priority. 

Spring sport safety standards by Noah Braunstein

Belmont-Redwood Shores Softball Association (BRSYSA)

The local softball league BRSYSA already played a limited 65 player fall season safely and plans to use similar tactics for spring, including COVID-19 waivers, mandatory masks, temperature checks, equipment sanitization, and weekly COVID-19 tests for coaches and players 13 years and up. 

League President Alex Gonikman described other safety adaptations, including grouping players by their school into practice teams or cohorts of less than 13 players. Only two teams will be allowed at the main practice field at a time, and there will be fewer volunteers than usual, to minimize contact. Despite the many safety hurdles, Gonikman stressed the benefits of getting kids out to play softball.

“In my opinion, team sports help build character and allow kids to learn to play with others. I’m a big fan of team sports, and I’ve been pushing hard to get spring sports going,” Gonikman said.

Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League (BRSLL)

The BRSLL baseball league plans to follow similar safety standards but has also considered other adaptations like placing its players on teams and providing safety standards for umpires. The league decided to forego tryouts this year for its upper divisions, remaining strict with age brackets and requirements and not allowing players to request to play in a higher division. League President, Joseph Revels, explained that after a year off, many players would need to re-develop their skills. Revels downplayed the winning/losing aspect of the game and stressed the overall importance of just getting kids out to play team sports. 

“Baseball is part of the fabric of being a kid in America, and I’ve seen the absence of baseball and the toll that it has taken. What I love about it is that it’s not about winning; it’s about making it accessible to all kids, making it fun, and growing the love of the sport,” Revels said.

In addition to returning to the field for players, reopening the season is getting teen umpires back to work. Carlmont sophomore, Areg Horoupian, is a teen umpire who’s happy the league will be reopening.

“If I had the opportunity to umpire again, I would most certainly do so. It was my main job for a long time, and I look forward to going back,” Horoupian said.

Reopening the league means BRSLL is looking for high school umpires and plans for safety standards to keep youth umpires safe. (Tony Chan)

BRSLL Chief Umpire, Mark Stevens, described safety precautions planned for youth umpires, including having home plate umpires wear face coverings at all times and having them stand behind the pitcher rather than behind the home plate. Additionally, Revels and Stevens encourage high school students, especially former players, to contact them for upcoming training sessions.

Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth Baseball

For older youth, Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth Baseball not only plans to hold their season but, for the first time, will be allowing high school players to actively play for their high school and play in Babe Ruth at the same time. Exact plans for high school scheduling and the opening play of the Babe Ruth season are still being determined. Still, there is clear determination to get the players back on the field after the lengthy layoff, as explained by league president Steve Vega. 

“Baseball is back, and It’s not just baseball. Youth athletes from age five through college need to be involved in some activity in their lives to keep their minds and bodies going. This is extremely crucial,” Vega said.

In the next few weeks, all three leagues will be hosting registration and are reassuring the community to feel safe and confident in enrolling their kids in their programs.  

If plans continue, “play ball!” will indeed echo throughout local fields in the coming weeks, signaling a key step back toward life before the pandemic.

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