Last year was rough. COVID-19 made its presence felt on youth sports across the world and Sebastopol Little League (SLL) was no different. The 2020 season was just getting underway when practices and games were cancelled to keep players, coaches and families safe. It was a financial blow to the league and an emotional blow to all involved. Since then the league has been strategizing about how to safely get players back in action. SLL implemented a pilot practice program this fall. The program was a success and now the league is optimistically opening registration to the 2021 season.
Almost a year into the current pandemic the impacts of COVID-19 continue to reveal themselves. Early last March registered little league players had just finished their first practice when Little League International sent out guidance that terminated the 2020 season. “We were just getting underway when things understandably shut down. It stripped away all those things we took for granted pre-COVID, but it was for all the right reasons,” reflects SLL’s PR Director Robert Simmons. It had an instant effect on the league’s financial status. Over twenty-four thousand dollars in registration dues were refunded to the families who had players enrolled in the 2020 season. SLL could only watch as the economics continued to work backwards. Lost revenue became apparent in the form of lost sponsorships, concessions, merchandise sales and the annual hit-a-thon fundraiser. All while expenses persisted in the form of continued field maintenance, insurance, and utilities. “The financial part was difficult to be sure, but we believe the social emotional impact on players, parents and coaches was more so. Our volunteers are so engaged. They put their hearts and souls into the game for the kids. The players lost out on exposure to the game and all benefits that youth sports have to offer including the interaction with other kids,” Said Simmons.
Youth Baseball is an incredible outlet for players of all ages. It promotes physical, emotional and intellectual development. It can build a lifelong appreciation for athletics and a healthy lifestyle. Not only that but youth baseball fosters skills and behaviors that can serve a person throughout their life. These include teamwork, critical thinking and leadership. SLL offers a safe and supported space. Which gives players the chance to grow from failures while learning good sportsmanship on the road to success. No wonder the SLL Board of Directors is looking forward to 2021 and getting kids on the field again.
During the fall of 2020 SLL created a pilot practice program centered on junior level players. The program ran through the second week in December and worked on player skill development. The focus of the pilot program was to explore ways to facilitate practices in compliance with the California Department of Public Health standards and Sonoma County’s Public Health mandates. From start to finish practices were run to ensure player and coach safety. The pilot program ran smoothly. The creativity of the coaches and the nature of the sport enabled players to practice safely. “We were really happy to get kids on the field again. Providing structured sporting activities that encourage self-esteem, coordination and competition. You know, to get kids practicing with a purpose. Fortunately for us baseball is played outside and players are naturally spaced out by position,” relays Simmons. With the triumph of the fall pilot program under their belts, SLL has opened registration for the 2021 season.
From the board down, SLL is a volunteer run organization. Parents and community members come together to create this unique youth experience. For the love of their kids, for the love of the game, all involved want to see kids outside enjoying the benefits of baseball. Luckily baseball is one of the few co-ed sports allowed to operate in the “red” tier. Even so, with Sonoma County still in the “purple” tier SLL acknowledges there is uncertainty in how the next few months will unfold. Therefore, the league is building some flexibility into the upcoming season. The league anticipates a delay to the start of the season. Currently, registration is open. Although, as of this writing there are no hard dates set for evaluations, practices, opening day, or games. That said, SLL is encouraging all parents and guardians to register prospective players as soon as possible to help speed the process of building teams at every level. Which in turn will allow the league to start calendaring events. It is a cautiously optimistic undertaking that recalls a quote from the late Babe Ruth. “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” Parents and guardians can register players online at sebastopollittleleague.com. For other inquiries or to support SLL with donations of funds or equipment you can contact the league via e-mail at email@example.com. Current volunteer opportunities include; field maintenance, managers, coaches, team parents, umpires and scorekeepers. There are also many sponsorship opportunities and donations of any amount will help the league offer more resources to the community.