Review of the return of many youth sports and a look at programs and facilities in Buffalo & WNY
After a spring totally void of youth sports, the last 4-6 weeks have been littered with uncertainty about if, when and how youth sports would return as we watched the virus rates decline in the region and phases 1, 2, & 3 of reopening navigated successfully. In late June, it was announced that those sports categorized as low & medium risk could restart on July 6th as per NY state guidelines. Undoubtedly great news, but not the end of the story.
The reality is that huge numbers of sports programs, leagues, camps and facilities had already been cancelled or closed for at least the summer, citing a lack of funds to open or an inability to adhere to the strict guidelines in place if sports are to be played (smaller groups, increased cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, masks, insurance premiums and more). So whilst many teams got straight back to play, we once again watched as resources and funding led to kids in low-income and disadvantaged communities losing access to sports whilst their more affluent peers got back to playing the sports they love. Amongst these general funding and reopening hurdles, there is also a commonly seen rule that no equipment sharing is allowed and kids must bring their own. Victory Sports is working as hard as possible to help out any organization, family, or team that needs help equipping participants in their programs.
Here’s a round up of some of the things we have seen in youth sports across the region and some national trends:
- For baseball and softball leagues that have restarted, some of you will have experienced the variety of adaptations to the scenes at the ballpark. Whilst this all feels like a necessary but sad change to the game we all love, this last one has something of a nice feel to it; replacing the post-game handshake with a line of players tipping their hats to each other! Perhaps this change can stay…
- One of the lesser-reported issues with facilities and teams returning to play is that they lose so much of the revenue they get from ticketing and concession stands, with the latter totally removed from most facilities hosting youth sports. These organizations rely on those funds to support the teams and the upkeep of the facility itself and this has meant many facilities fear for their future. In Central Amherst Little League, kids are asked to bring their own helmets, but they can be provided for kids to keep if they can’t provide their own. Sadly, not every organization has the resources to do so. Please reach out to Victory Sports if you need help with equipment.
- In the City of Buffalo, reliance on publicly funded facilities and programming is probably at its highest across Erie County. The city is dealing with major budget shortfalls as it reels from the corona-virus and the costs and risks involved in keeping sites open has meant many have remained closed. However, some good news with regard the opening of several of the city’s splash-pads as of 7/6, particularly as the heat wave hit last week. Not such good news about the city’s 7 outdoor pools. They will all remain closed this summer. Basketball courts in the city were a hot topic and as of now they remain closed, but playgrounds and fitness stations have reopened as of 7/10. The city is accepting requests for softball & baseball diamonds and soccer fields at 50% of capacity, and tennis courts likewise 50% capacity on a first-come first-served basis. You can read the latest press release from the City of Buffalo Division of Parks & Recreation here.
- Perhaps not surprising to learn that some teams started playing before the restart on the 6th, but they were quickly reported to the authorities. Who knows if the motivation for reporting them was health concerns or rivalry…
- Great news for Victory Sports partners Algonquin Sports and PAL (Police Athletic League) this week as they both kicked off youth tennis camps – in the searing heat! Congratulations to all involved. As mentioned, equipment sharing is not allowed and Victory Sports is so proud to have helped both of these awesome organizations with equipment.
- Buffalo Youth Lacrosse were able to restart their camps this week at D’Youville College and have lots of opportunities for kids to play lacrosse this summer. Register here!
- Finally, an awesome initiative being supported by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr, Foundation, one of Victory Sports’ long-term backers, and KABOOM Inc., called “Play Everywhere”. This design challenge addresses the lack of safe, free-play spaces particularly in low-income and black & brown communities that have often been overlooked for development of critical infrastructure and been disproportionately hit by the pandemic. A total of $1 million will be awarded to successful applicants and their designs of accessible free-play equipment and facilities across WNY and South East Michigan. Check out full details here!
You will notice football hasn’t been mentioned yet. Whilst the UB Bulls started pre-season training last week and the Buffalo Bills have been in camp for a while now ahead of a proposed season without fans at New Era field, the horizon for youth football is not looking good at all, particularly tackle. It is classified as a high-risk sport on the NY state guidelines along with wrestling, volleyball, lacrosse and a handful of others due to the unavoidable close-contact of players. NFL looks like it might start in the fall because there are sufficient resources to have players and coaches effectively operating in a vacuum to keep the risk of transmission low enough to justify playing. College football is hanging in the balance but many believe it is unrealistic to expect any college football until next year. The story for youth and high school football is far bleaker. It is unlikely to restart in any states that have a rate of transmission above a ‘safe’ level as set by state and federal government. One solution could be flag football which you can see working for certain age levels but is unlikely to satisfy youth athletes at high school age. For a detailed read on youth & high school football restarting (or not), head to the Aspen Institute’s report here.
It is absolutely wonderful to see kids out playing sport again across WNY. There are so many hurdles to be overcome and terrible numbers of kids still not able to participate, but we must be pleased at the resumption. Victory Sports has been busy supplying equipment and resources to other non-profits and publicly funded sports programs, and have pushed ahead with several initiatives across WNY related to free-play such as our Ball-Bin campaign, #ProjectJumpRope and the Play-Packs we are distributing with support from Project Play WNY. If you’d like to learn more about what we do, please get in touch.
The Aspen Institute Project Play and Project Play WNY are always excellent resources for learning about the state-of-play for youth sports as we navigate the ‘new normal’ during and after emerging from Covid-19.
Victory Sports is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit based in Buffalo, NY and serving kids in all eight counties of WNY. We collect new & gently-used sports equipment and donate to under-resourced schools, teams, leagues, youth sports organizations and families to help kids play sport! If you can donate to our cause, please follow the link below. Thank you for your support!