Little League organizations in Maine are making different decisions about their 2020 seasons in the wake of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines for nonprofessional sports, with some towns electing not to attempt to play this year, while others are moving forward with revised plans.

Freeport Pownal Little League and York Little League both announced this weekend that they are canceling their baseball and softball seasons.

Meanwhile, league presidents in Augusta and Falmouth said they definitely plan on having a season and have already formalized plans on what their seasons will look like.

Other organizations, like Portland Little League and South Portland American, intend to have a season in July and August but have not finalized plans.

Whether to play youth sports is going to be a local decision. Maine’s Little League district and state tournaments have already been canceled, as have the regional tournaments and Little League World Series.

Bill Finley is the commissioner of Little League District 6, which covers Cumberland County and some of Oxford County. He thinks two-thirds of the 18 leagues in his district will play this summer.

“It might not be as much for softball; (we’re) probably looking at six to 10 leagues, something like that,” Finley said.

Each of the District 6 leagues offer both baseball and softball during a normal year, with the exception of Sacopee Valley, which has only softball.

“A good majority of my leagues will play some kind of ball, sometime by July. Most will wait until 4th of July weekend,” said Finley.

Freeport Pownal is in District 6. York, which is in District 4, also has both baseball and softball.

Maine’s guidelines for nonprofessional sports seem to allow games at the local level once the limit on public gatherings increases to 50 people on June 1. But while the guidelines say “outdoor trainings with social distancing may be prudent,” the document also says “travel teams or scrimmages between teams in the same community are strongly discouraged.”

“It’s fair to say all of the (Little League) presidents in our district were kind of spooked by the language that strongly discouraged games between towns and scrimmages with teams from the same town,” said RJ Matson, the president of Falmouth Little League. “But then we looked at the rest of document and there was nothing else in there that wasn’t addressed by our plans.”

“The word ‘scrimmage,’ means something different than a game,” said Augusta Little League President Mike Karagiannes. “To me, a scrimmage means something that is not an organized game, so you wouldn’t have someone monitoring and with all the protocols in place.”

Matson added, “No one has told us we can’t play. No one has said that. Little League International hasn’t said that. They said work it out with the towns. Falmouth said it’s your decision to make, but we’re going to open the fields on June 1.”

In Falmouth, there is enough interest to have four baseball teams in the 11- and 12-year-old age group, commonly referred to as the Majors. The league is looking to start practicing around June 15.

“We are on a path to play games after July 4, and we would like to play three to four weeks into early August,” Matson said.

In Falmouth, players will not use the dugouts, instead they’ll stay spaced out along the foul lines. Parents will be kept beyond the outfield fence. Equipment won’t be shared. Each team will use a separate box of balls while in the field, which will in turn be sanitized while the team is hitting.

Falmouth softball in past years has had one majors-level team that played against other towns. Since inter-town travel will not be happening, Matson said his league is looking at creating an in-town option for softball players, based on the Little League Sandlot format that does not use umpires and allows for greater roster flexibility.

Finley said Windham Little League has a plan for enforcing spectator social distancing. That league plans to draw circles around the field, each 10 feet apart. Only family members can be within an individual circle.

One reason Falmouth did not try to run its T-ball (ages 5 and 6) and AA (ages 7 and 8) leagues, Matson said, is because they did not think players that young would be able to maintain social distancing.

Karagiannes said Augusta will try to run each of its age groups, with tryouts the first week of June, and hopes to play roughly 10 games.

“It really depends on registrations and the number of volunteers we get. If we have 10 kids for T-ball but only one volunteer, we’re not going to do it,” Karagiannes said. “At the upper level, I’ve already had enough coaches and we want to have extra coaches just to help out, to monitor the kids.”

Augusta will also keep teams out of dugouts and emphasize social distancing while waiting to take the field. Each player will be assigned a helmet to wear all season. The size of teams for the younger age groups is likely to shrink, to make it easier to enforce social distancing rules.

“We’re not doing this for us. The easiest thing for us would have been to say, ‘No baseball.’ But I’ve had so many people asking, ‘Are you going to do baseball?” The other thing I tell everyone is, it’s your choice. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it,” Karagiannes said.

South Portland American President Christopher Main said his league put out a survey to all its parents, and 70 percent wanted some form of competition. Main said the league is still working with city and state officials to determine if “we can play within social distancing guidelines.”

“Unfortunately when you look at any guidelines, where there’s not a hard-and-fast rule, that’s all they are, are guidelines,” Main said. “We’re just taking a cautionary approach. We need to make sure we’re protecting children in any way we can, and if the decision is made not to do it, then we’ll cancel.”

But, Main said he hopes games can be played, because “everything has been ripped out from underneath these kids, and if they have some semblance of sport, that would be a good thing.”

 


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