When communities first began seeing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their backyard in the spring of 2020, many volunteers set out to create a plan for returning the Little League field when safe and appropriate based on the recommendations of local government and health authorities. One of those leagues that took that guidance to create their own local league version was Mercer Island (Wash.) Little League.
Jeff Weiss, Mercer Island Little League President, in collaboration with the other members of the league’s Board of Directors, set out to establish a local league guide for social distancing that would address some of the common questions and concerns that parents and volunteers have regarding personal health and safety and provide the league with a structure to return to the field when safe and appropriate.
“There were two factors that drove the conversation — safety for players and parents,” said Mr. Weiss. “It was important for parents to have a comfort level that allowed them to put their players back on the field; and for the kids to have fun.”
In addition to Mr. Weiss, fellow Board members Eric Dahlberg and Becky Shaddle, and others on the league’s social distance committee, were important to the development of the plan, including the framework that proved to be a balance of what is reasonable and practical for the league.
“There was a ‘spirited debate’ about the restrictions,” said Mr. Weiss. “At the end of the discussions, we came up with a great compromise that allows for players to have a great Little League experience, but still helps to keep the players and their families safe.”
Each league has its own unique set of touchpoints when considering such a plan, but Mr. Weiss and the MILL Board of Directors agreed that the providing the opportunity to have a Little League season was much more important than the challenges it faced. Their plan will be ready to implement when the league is able to return to the field.
“This is a living plan,” said Mr. Weiss, understanding that it is intended to be updated and adapted throughout the 2020 season and beyond.
“Once it was established, we sent out a survey to the parents describing the plan and asked what they were thinking about in order to have their children return to play,” said Mr. Weiss. “The response rate was good, and the parents’ feedback was positive, noting it was a comprehensive plan that balanced safety and fun.”
“The team managers were a little nervous, but they thought (the plan) was workable,” said Mr. Weiss. “As the season progressed, they knew we would be able to make tweaks and that adjustments for other volunteer areas like the concession stand, grounds crew, and umpires would also be made as the season moved on.”
While compliance was, in many cases, left up to the individual to consider, the league made it known that they would step in if any individual was not willing to follow the guidance or at least compromise.
“There was a lot of time spent on deciding how to get folks in and out of the field area once the games were over,” said Mr. Weiss. “It was important to have an effective way of moving people before and after games with proper social distancing. We worked closely with our (municipality) to decide how the flow of people would work on and off our complex.”
Mr. Weiss suggests that every local league takes a critical look at their facility and community, then consider how to initiate best practices to account for social distancing guidelines in future safety plans. As each local Little League program compiles their Coronavirus mitigation plans, they’re encouraged to first and foremost follow the guidance provided by their local and state health and government authorities, as well as the Little League Best Practices on Organizing, Playing, and Watching Little League Baseball and Softball During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“There are a ton of resources now available, so seek out guidance from your local government and state health service organizations,” said Mr. Weiss. “We spend a lot of time discussing the physical aspect of the league safety plan, but now, the health aspect needs to be a bigger factor going forward.”
To review the MILL Social Distancing Plan, view this PDF.