With public health restrictions starting to be relaxed for team sports in Alberta, members of Airdrie’s baseball community are working hard to prepare programs for local ball players this summer.
According to Paul Ibbotson, Airdrie Little League (ALL) president, the association will run a modified season for athletes aged nine to 16 from July 6 to Aug. 23. The predominant change, he said, will be assigning players, coaches and umpires to “pods” of 50 people that will include up to four teams. The teams in each pod will play exclusively against each other multiple times throughout the shortened season.
“We just released that plan in the last 24 hours, but there has already been a lot of excitement,” he said. “I’ve been answering a lot of emails from parents who are eager to get baseball going again. I expect we’re going to have a really positive response as registration moves forward.”
Initially, team sports were not going to be allowed until Phase 3 of the province’s economic relaunch strategy. However, government officials announced June 9 that modified team sports would be included in Phase 2, as long as there are no more than 50 people involved and other health directives are adhered to. Phase 2 kicked off June 12 – a week earlier than expected.
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Ibbotson added there will also be limits on how many people can watch youth baseball games in Airdrie.
“We have made accommodations for parents, but it certainly won’t be like it was in the past,” he said. “There will be limits on congregating, and it will be parents only – no other spectators. They’ll be spaced around the outfield fence so we can maintain social distance.”
In a typical season, up to 600 athletes between the ages of four and 16 are registered with ALL, Ibbotson said. Each age group includes anywhere from 10 to 12 teams, who play against each other in May and June. They also face teams from other little league associations around the province.
As with other sports clubs in Airdrie, the cancellation of the regular 2020 season in May and June meant ALL was financially impacted by COVID-19, Ibbotson said.
“Normally, our season runs from the end of April to the end of June, so obviously we cancelled that and had to refund all of that,” he said. “Definitely, there’s a number of members who won’t be joining us this summer, out of fear of COVID. How many exactly, that remains to be seen.”
Another financial setback came in the form of the cancellation of a national tournament that ALL was going to host this summer for the U13 age group. Fortunately, Ibbotson said, Airdrie will still get to host the event in 2021.
“There’s a lot of excitement that comes around our membership in seeing that high calibre of baseball being played," he said. “It’s just good for our members and the community – and the financial aspect can’t be overlooked.”
More information on the 2020 season is available at airdrielittleleague.ca