(CBS4)– Instead of working on their craft, young athletes in Colorado are sitting on the couch, safer at home. Gov. Jared Polis has released safe reopening guidelines for businesses like hair salons during the coronavirus pandemic, but when it comes to sports many youth players feel like they’ve been benched by the state.
“I have a tee and a net, so I hit downstairs. I was growing so much before COVID-19 and it just went all back. I was making progress and it’s hard. Things just didn’t go my way,” said Hayden Cook, a club softball player and rising freshman.
Hitting balls alone in the basement isn’t the practice Hayden needed this summer, especially before trying out for high school softball. This is the first summer in 7 years the club softball player hasn’t played with her team.
Hayden can’t practice with friends, or even hit balls with her mother in Denver parks. The City and County of Denver banned the use of shared recreational equipment last month. She’s one of the thousands of young Colorado athletes eager to play team sports.
Parents, like Hayden’s mother, want to know why they can run errands but their kids can’t run bases.
“Teams are traveling out of state to play this weekend. We don’t want to do that, we want to play locally,” said Jamie Cook, Hayden’s mom. “We see more people in Walmart, we see more people in King Soopers than you do at a ball park. This isn’t a Rockies game. It’s usually two parents and kid.”
Cook is frustrated that the state hasn’t provided any guidelines to teams or coaches about how to resume practice safely. She says very few parents and players on her daughter’s team feel it’s not safe to play, but that’s their choice.
This mother would be satisfied with fan-free games, if that meant her daughter can take the field.
“Just give us some guidelines. Just tell us what you want from us. We as parents and coaches and organizations will do that to get our kids back out there,” said Cook.
Fort Collins based Triple Crown Sports has canceled several tournaments due to COVID-19. TCS founder, David King, acknowledges that he’s a businessman but he’s also been a coach for nearly 30 years. He’s passionate about advocating for youth sports to resume, not for revenue, but for the athletes.
“There are no champions left for these kids. They’re just getting buried in these things,” said King. “The kids who do youth sports are the silent part of America. They haven’t been recognized. They’ve been lumped into a group, put to the side, and told ‘We’ll get to you later.'”
King presented the governor’s office his own plan to play safely, from sanitizing to social distancing. CBS4’s Tori Mason asked the governor’s office if King’s ideas were something they’d consider. They office did not directly respond to King’s plan.
“The size of a softball field fits 13 fast food restaurants. We want to put 14 people in the space the size of 13 restaurants. Outdoors,” explained King, “Wearing masks, sanitizing the dugouts, spraying down balls between practices, shifting in small groups between different areas. We’ve been able to change the ball out in practice, but like touching a railing or doorknob, you can manage that with washing hands.”
King says he has spent two months developing a safe-to-play system while players waited at home. He has spoken to multiple health officials, in every level of government. He knows the time for summer sports is passing by, and these kids are running out of time.
“Guys like me are willing to take the state our protocols and say ‘look at these.’ We’re up to the responsibility. Let us self administrate our sport,” said King. “If we can do it safely, let us come back. We can do it safely.”
King says sports are critical to the physical and mental health of these athletes. He says its time the state put these kids back in the game.
“Youth sports matter! To keep kids out is probably the greatest injustice of this whole thing. People have demanded to be let back in the campgrounds, the parks, the bike trails, hair salons. We need to be back June 1. Not a day later,” said King, “Summer is almost gone for these kids.”
Polis’ office told CBS4: “We are continuing to evaluate epidemiological data and hope to be able to provide an update following May 25.”
CBS4’s Tori Mason asked Polis’ office if guidelines to reopen safely are in the works, so players wouldn’t have to wait any longer after the state deemed youth sports safe to play. The governor’s office has not responded.