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The Little League baseball and softball season has been wiped out in many places due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some Maine leagues still hope to salvage a modified competition format.
With all state, regional and national tournaments canceled, some leagues are trying to devise a plan to play in July and August if health restrictions are relaxed.
The Bangor East and Bangor West Little Leagues, along with Old Town, Caribou and Hampden’s Bronco, are among those holding out a glimmer of hope that they can hold some games later in the summer.
“Based on the current requirements, I can’t see us being able to do it,” said Derrick Cunningham, the president of Bangor West Little League.
Brewer, Hermon, Glenburn and Winterport are among the organizations that have already canceled their 2020 seasons. There also have been a few others in District 3 that have decided not to renew their charters, which prohibits them from playing, according to District 3 Administrator Mike Brooker.
Brooker has 17 baseball leagues under his jurisdiction in eastern and northern Maine. He said eight of them have officially decided they won’t have a season of any kind. Others may have come to that conclusion but haven’t announced it.
Brooker was involved in a virtual meeting with the other district administrators across the state, and he said their situations are similar.
The list of restrictions related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, is lengthy and would have to be relaxed significantly to enable any leagues to have a modified season.
Even the state’s expansion for gatherings from 10 people to 50 on June 1 is only one consideration.
“There is no way to pull this off without guideline changes,” said Steve Savoy, the president of the Old Town Little League.
The guidelines have been set forth by Little League Baseball and Gov. Janet Mills under the guidance of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The rules are subject to change, which is what league presidents are hoping for.
Brooker said one restriction is not allowing the players in the dugout because it would pose a social distancing issue.
Mike Levesque, the president of the Bronco Little League, said their insurance policy requires that players and coaches be in the dugout.
“So does this mean we won’t be able to get insurance?” he said.
If there is a portable toilet or restroom, it must be sanitized every time someone uses it.
“I have enough trouble getting volunteers to work the concession stand. How am I going to get someone to sanitize the porta-potty?” Savoy said.
Players also must use their own bats and can’t share equipment such as gloves or batting helmets.
“So if a kid hits a double, is he going to have to [call a timeout] and run in from second base to pick up his bat and take it over to the fence?” Levesque said.
Cunningham pointed out that between players, coaches and umpires, there are likely to be 30 people on or around the field at the same time.
“So now you’re going to have to tell a bunch of parents they can’t watch their son or daughter play,” said Cunningham, whose program has another dilemma.
Bangor’s Little League fields are on school property, so the Bangor School Department will have to give them permission to use the facilities.
The guidelines stress social distancing, with players and coaches being separated by at least six feet, and also emphasize reducing the amount of physical contact among participants involved in a practice or game.
“Baseball is a non-contact sport but everyone has contact with the baseball. There’s no other way to get around it,” Brooker said.
Brooker said even if the restrictions are relaxed, there are questions about whether there will be enough players to have teams and whether the parents will allow their children to play.
Cunningham said Bangor West conducted a poll among parents and 45 families are willing to let their kids play if safety measures are in place.
Bangor East President Dale Duff said some of their parents and players have expressed interest in returning to play.
“What we’re doing is developing a plan that will meet all the criteria and then making sure there is enough interest,” Duff said. “We have to have some sense of how many want to play.”
Brooker and all the presidents stressed that safety is the top priority.
If leagues are able to get on the field, teams would play only within their own towns.
“I’m not going to give up,” Levesque said. “We have cancelled our spring season but if the CDC changes the rules, there’s no reason we can’t have a modified season at the end of July and into August if it makes sense.”
The leagues have players from 7 to 17 years old, but most of the leagues are primarily focusing on the 9- to 12-year-olds.
Savoy said one of Old Town’s Little League fields is owned by the city and they have been cleared to use it as long as they are in strict compliance with the guidelines.
The others are owned by the school department, so they would have to receive school department approval.
Bangor West will vote Sunday on whether or not to pursue salvaging a modified season on Sunday. Old Town has a board meeting scheduled for June 9.
Brooker said the pandemic isn’t a good situation for anybody.
“We have to adapt intelligently, move forward and see what we can get done safely,” Brooker said.
He worries that a player could contract COVID-19 but not have any symptoms and then pass it on to a grandparent who may be at higher risk because of underlying health issues.
Brooker said any leagues that are found disobeying health and safety guidelines can lose their charter and insurance and be suspended for a year.
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase