This was supposed to be a huge weekend for fastpitch softball in Columbus with nearly 400 teams in town for the USSSA State Tournament.
While COVID-19 concerns caused the cancelation of most of the city’s big events this spring, the USSSA state tourney was moved to July 31 through Aug. 2. But only 226 of the original 384 teams still are entered.
As it turned out, Columbus could have hosted the tournament this weekend after Gov. Eric Holcomb moved up the beginning of Stage 4 of the state’s “Back On Track Indiana Plan” to Friday.
“With the uncertainty of it all, we couldn’t take a chance,” said Tim Foster, USSSA state director for Indiana.
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Under the Stage 4 entry guidelines, community recreational non-contact sports practices, games and tournaments may resume. Contact sports, such as football, basketball, rugby or wrestling, can conduct conditioning and non-contact drills. Contact sports may resume games or tournaments beginning Friday.
Before any games or tournaments, the host must make publicly available a COVID response plan outlining the steps being taken to ensure social distancing, increased sanitation and overall protection of competitors, coaches, staff, and spectators.
Dunn Stadium, which is one of five sites that hosts the USSSA State Tournament, will host a USSA league-formatted 12-and-under tournament for 16 teams beginning at 8 a.m. today.
“When they put out the (June) 14th date, everybody prepared just to have a one-day tournament,” said Rich Day, the new county parks and recreation supervisor. All the fast-pitch entities thought it would be pertinent not to change the schedules. So we’re going to ease into this.”
Day said to meet the social distancing requirements, only eight teams — the two teams playing on each of four diamonds — will be allowed into the park at a time. There will be no concession stands, and fans will not be permitted to sit behind the backstop.
“We have cautioned-off areas where fans can’t sit,” Day said. “We have hand sanitizer available. We’re spraying down the park before, midway through and after games each day, and restrooms will be sanitized and have the doors propped open. We’ve been working on this for over a month.”
Dunn Stadium also will host a BMX race at noon today at the BMX track.
Meanwhile, Columbus Softball Association men’s, women’s and coed leagues begin on Monday. City parks director Mark Jones said registration for fall youth soccer and for adult kickball and volleyball leagues will begin soon.
“We had some low registration (for adult kickball and volleyball) because people didn’t know the staging, but we’ll hit that hard in the fall and give it another shot,” Jones said. “We usually have pretty good numbers from there, so when things start going back to the new normal, I think those will be good numbers.”
Columbus will host a USSSA Sparkler July 4 weekend and the DMB Sports Jam the following weekend. Those softball tournaments are for teams ranging from 10U to 18U and will be played at Lincoln Park, Clifty Park, Dunn Stadium and Edinburgh.
“We’re right in the middle of our big tournament season,” Jones said. “We had to cancel a few, but we have some pretty good-sized tournaments coming in.”
The USSSA season was supposed to start the last week in March, but so far, no tournament games have been played.
“It’s been a financial burden,” Foster said. “It’s been really, really tough. Our last tournament is usually in October, so we went from five or six months of not making any money to nine months. It’s not only been tough on us, it’s been tough on our umpires, the hotels, everybody. I’m not sure they all (hotels) realize what we do for them until something like this happens.”
Jones is excited for the return of tournaments and sports leagues.
“There’s no such thing as normal, but our new normal is working with organizations on social distancing and disinfecting,” he said. “We’re prepared, and we’re ready to get rolling again.”