Rec league sports get kids out of the house and onto the field amid COVID-19 outbreak

Daniel Mayes/Daily Citizen-News

Attendees at Dalton Parks and Recreation Department-sponsored youth sports games are encouraged to stay socially distant by signs like this one at Dalton's Heritage Point Park.

Tucker Townsend isn’t thinking too much about the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) as he plays out his summer baseball season for the Whitfield Raiders.

The Valley Point Elementary School student is just glad to be able to play the game he wants to continue playing for a long, long time.

“Oh, I love baseball,” said Tucker Thursday evening as his team, made up of youth ages 12 and under, was preparing to play against the Whitfield Braves at Dalton’s Heritage Point Park. “I want to go play college ball and probably make it to the pros if I can keep a good work ethic.”

Tucker’s team is part of a summer baseball league schedule comprised of teams organized by the Dalton and Whitfield County parks and recreation departments. After the usually-held spring season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 outbreak, youth baseball and softball teams have been back on diamonds across the city for a free summer schedule since mid-June. A Dalton Parks and Recreation Department-sponsored summer youth soccer league and adult softball league are also ongoing, and registration is open for fall football, soccer, volleyball and cross country.

The effects of the outbreak were noticeable at Heritage Point Park Thursday evening. Signs dotted the walkway leading to the field, encouraging social distancing and mask use. Family members and friends of the players spread out as they watched the action. Instead of the customary meeting of the teams at the end of the game to shake hands or high-fives, the players in each dugout offered a quick cap wave.

Those safety measures were put in place to produce as healthy of an environment as possible for the games to continue, said Will Chappell, athletic manager at the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department.

“We can’t guarantee you’re not going to catch it (COVID-19), just like any other illness or injury that can happen,” Chappell said. “We just try to do everything we can to keep people as safe as possible."

Chappell said he and the rest of the staff at the DPRD researched methods and practices used by recreation organizations nationwide for the guidelines, combined with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

Carol Godfrey, Tucker’s grandmother, was attending Thursday game while his parents were with younger brother Ty at another set of games at Edwards Park. Godfrey said the safety measures give her peace of mind that her family will stay safe.

“I’m not worried about it,” Godfrey said of the virus. “We stay distant in our own little group. The coaches are very careful with the kids, too.”

Godfrey said being able to play has been a welcome relief for her two sports-minded grandchildren from the monotony of home life.

“They have to have that camaraderie with their friends, and being stuck at home, they don’t have that,” Godfrey said. “They’re only allowed limited time if they play games on PlayStation, so even at home, they’re outside playing.”

Chappell said bringing back that outlet for kids in the area was a driving force in reopening the leagues.

“One of the biggest things for child development is the social aspect, and when schools got shut down, that took a lot of that away,” Chappell said. “To be able to come together and give them that outlet to play baseball and softball, that gives them the chance to do that.”

“While they’re out there playing, it’s almost back to normal for them for a few minutes,” Chappell said.

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