Travel teams adjusting to life without sports

  • It's not just high school spring sports that have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic with facilities like M14 in Aurora also shut down sidelining hundreds of area basketball players training for next year.

    It's not just high school spring sports that have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic with facilities like M14 in Aurora also shut down sidelining hundreds of area basketball players training for next year. Photo courtesy of M14

  • Photos like this, a travel baseball team celebrating a tournament title and a staple of the youth sports scene, are on hold thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. This file photo of the 10U Lake County Lightning includes two players -- Daniel Pacella and Charlie Marisca, the eighth and ninth players in the front row -- who recently committed to play Division I baseball.

    Photos like this, a travel baseball team celebrating a tournament title and a staple of the youth sports scene, are on hold thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. This file photo of the 10U Lake County Lightning includes two players -- Daniel Pacella and Charlie Marisca, the eighth and ninth players in the front row -- who recently committed to play Division I baseball. Photo Courtesy of Millie Naughton

 
 
Updated 3/31/2020 3:05 PM

Not long after kids start playing travel baseball, thoughts often turn to their 12U season and a summer trip for a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

It's a highlight for everyone in the sport, from the coaches to parents to the players.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And for many this year, it will become another casualty to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cooperstown Dreams Park has already canceled its entire 2020 season. The two other Cooperstown tournaments -- Cooperstown Baseball World and Cooperstown All-Star Village -- will make a decision around May 1.

The 12U Lake County Lightning, scheduled for All-Star Village, are one of many suburban teams planning to go.

"There's still hope," said Jerry Fox, the general manager and founder of the Lightning 16 years ago.

The Lightning have 22 teams ranging from 8U to 18U with 600 players at their tryouts. Two of their older players, Daniel Pacella (Mundelein) and Charlie Marisca (Grayslake Central), recently committed to play college baseball at Kentucky and Missouri, respectively.

The high school kids have been practicing from November through February, and the younger ages started indoor practices in early January -- all for a season that now is very much up in the air.

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"To have the season kind of go the way it's gone so far is tough, but what can you do?" Fox said. "They all have done indoor practicing and now comes the time they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and it's been kind of taken away from them. But it's the same with everybody in anything right now. It's crazy out there."

Shutting down

Travel soccer clubs, softball teams and basketball facilities like M14 in Aurora are all in the same boat.

The West Suburban Sports Complex in Lisle, formerly known as Bulls/Sox Training Academy, has closed its doors until at least May 10.

In a statement the complex said customers impacted by canceled programs will receive a full credit applied to their account, adding: "The health and safety of our players, coaches, employees and the young athletes who participate in our sports programs is our top priority."

One-day Shootouts, which hosts many AAU basketball tournaments at locations like Aurora, Mundelein, Libertyville and Romeoville, has canceled its tournaments through April 11. For the tournaments scheduled after that, decisions will be made 10 days in advance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Matt Miller, a Waubonsie Valley graduate, opened the M14 facility in 2018 that trains hundreds of girls and boys basketball players.

"Right now we have put on hold all spring programs and I have not allowed any tournaments to rent the facility," Miller said. "We will wait to see what the government allows us to do. As much I would like to open and our players have expressed the same, I want to make sure our athletes and their families are safe when they return. To stay proactive we have sent emails out to all our players to let them know what is going on and have tried to stay in touch with them to the best of our ability."

Caulbert Smith, director at Campton United soccer, said his organization is following guidelines from U.S. Soccer on when training can resume. Right now that stands at April 30 at the earliest.

Financial implications

The cancellations of these tournaments have quite an economical impact -- from the clubs that no longer offer teams and training to the umpires and referees no longer working the games to many others.

Most baseball and softball tournaments already have collected entry fees. All these teams who have paid to join don't normally get their money back.

"The real challenge is tournament organizers, they have to make these tough decisions," Fox said. "They are a business. They have invested monies and have people to pay and they are not very prone to giving their money back. They mostly give you a credit. You can use it for a tournament next year and therein lies the problem because it's a different team and a different age group and things of that nature. We're trying to figure out ways kids get their money's worth as best as we can do."

Warriors Baseball Club, which trains at Athletes HQ in Elgin, is looking into all scenarios associated with the possibility of a shortened, canceled, or even extended season into the fall.

"This involves all aspects of operations and finances surrounding a best and worst case scenario," Warriors 13U coach Dave Schmidt said. "No one wants to jump the gun and end the season prematurely; however one glimpse of any newsfeed indicates we could be in this for a longer time than most of us initially anticipated. As a result, some tournament directors are beginning to offer additional options later into the summer. A summer without baseball would be a very tough pill to swallow for everyone involved with the sport."

As with most everything, there's a lot to still be determined.

"I really am going to have to wait to see what the true impact is," Miller said. "Once we get reopened I will know how much of our fees will be credited into other programs and what of our teams' seasons we can salvage. Like most businesses this will affect us but we will pull through."

During the downtime

Organizations are giving their players various instructions to work on at home.

Miller asks his players to work on their ballhandling in the basement. Soccer organizations have sent out various social media challenges for teammates to compete with each other at.

Lightning coaches have posted things like two-hand ball drills.

"I'm seeing a lot of fun things on social," Fox said. "We're having as much fun as we can."

Not as much fun as when -- however long it might be -- games return.

"If CDC lightens up in groups of 10 we should have practices and hopefully some games," Fox said. "We're not giving up on the season. We'll be the last ones to give up, I can assure you that."

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