In a summer overshadowed by concern caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a positive twist will highlight the Little League tournaments that will take place across Ashtabula County this weekend.
Unlike in years past, where local parks put together All-Star like teams to represent their community in the tournaments, this season, all youngsters playing ball will have the chance to compete.
Frank Cole, the administrator for Ohio Little League District 1 and chairman of the Ashtabula Little League Board, it’s a nice plus, especially for those who might not never have an opportunity to play in a tournament.
“By having a local tournament, we’re involving and giving those kids that don’t have the opportunity to be on an All-Star team the chance to play in a tournament atmosphere and play multiple games throughout the weekend just like they’re on a tournament team,” Cole said.
Cole, like other league officials throughout not only the county but across the state, have dealt with their challenges this season.
Participation in Ashtabula is down about 60 percent. Parks such as the ones in Geneva, Conneaut and Andover did not open this season, although players from those communities were able to play with other teams.
The season did not start until mid-June, compared to the normal start time in April or early May which has made getting the players ready to play a nearly impossible task for coaches. And, of course, the possibility of COVID-19 affecting a player is a cloud that has hung over everyone all summer.
Though there have been no reports of anyone catching the virus or any concerns expressed from the health department over deviation from the safety plan, Cole said maintaining the new regulations has still been the biggest challenge.
“It’s still tough keeping that social distancing with most of the kids,” he said. “Once they get around their friends, they don’t realize what they need to do. So we’re constantly with the umpires making them move back and forth to where they are supposed to be and meet the guidelines of the health department.”
The benefits from the efforts put in by the coaches, umpires and parents have been immeasurable, though.
“It’s rewarding because everyone is here for the kids,” Cole said. “It’s not about winning or losing or anything we do for profit. It’s about letting the kids play.”
About 30 teams will hit the field in three divisions this weekend, more than twice the amount who would normally compete. The Little League state and national tournaments have been canceled for this year, so teams will be playing bragging rights only.
Which, for Cole, is quite OK.
“We’re just happy that the kids across the district that want to play are getting the opportunity to play,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and that’s what it’s all about.”