2020 Top Stories: #8 Youth leagues usher in return of sports – Zanesville Times Recorder

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Karter Burrell, of the Muskingum County Muck Dogs 10-and-under team, participates in a soft toss drill at the Y-City Midget Baseball diamonds in Zanesville. Twenty teams from Muskingum County played at Y-City this year after multiple organizations chose not to have a season.

The Times Recorder’s countdown of top stories from 2020 continues. The #1 story will be published on Dec. 31.

ZANESVILLE – The COVID-19 pandemic had canceled the high school spring sports season, but youth sports found a way to return by June.

The Ohio Department of Health, along with local health departments, set guidelines to allow baseball and softball teams to take the diamond.

There were several mandates leagues and teams followed in order to play again. Among those were no high fives or handshakes, daily symptom checks and no spitting, gum chewing and tobacco use.

Masks were dropped from required to recommended, which was the main issue raised by teams before being allowed back.

Most area baseball leagues canceled before the announcement, such as Northern Local and West Muskingum. Others, like the Muskingum Valley Old-Timers Association, initially canceled, reconvened after the announcement and then opted to stay with the original decision.

The leagues that did play included The Central Ohio Youth Baseball League, Tri-Valley, New Concord and Y-City. Teams and players from other areas where leagues did not play traveled to take part in some of those leagues.

The same was true for softball where Zanesville and Philo-Duncan Falls were only a few of the leagues that eventually took to field.

John Lanning, president of the Tri-Valley Youth League, noted nearly 80 percent of their players chose to participate after the mandates were released. He said coaches and players were glad to take the field, even if the game had a different feel.

“Everybody seems pretty happy with it,” Lanning previously told the Times Recorder. “Obviously things are a little bit different. It’s a little weird to play baseball and not give them a high five, but I see coaches adjusting to it. We had a scrimmage and there were no handshakes after the game.”

Coaches Billy Hoffer and Jeremy Harper talk to their team during the first day of practice at the Y-City Midget Baseball. Twenty teams from Muskingum County played at Y-City this year after multiple organizations chose not to have a season.

Fewer spectators and social distancing were also required during the games. Every place also had hand sanitizing stations and other measures met to allow the kids to play.

Mike Young, Y-City commissioner, also stressed patience during the season, as leagues adjusted to follow the rules. 

“We’re going to do our best,” Young said. “We will follow all required guidelines. We’re going to do our best to follow recommendations and remind our people, but it still has to be people’s choice. … We are just asking people to be smart down here.”

The opportunity to play was crucial to teams like Franklin Local 10-and-under squad that joined Y-City. Coach Billy Hoffer felt it was important to have some normalcy in his and others players’ summer.

“We’re excited to be here,” Hoffer said during a break in the team’s first practice. “I don’t care if we win a game all year. We get to play ball.”

Those efforts allowed the Ohio High School Athletic Association to consider fall sports, which were eventually approved. All sports, besides football, kept to the familiar formats of full regular seasons followed by the tournament.

In early August, OHSAA announced football would feature a six-game regular season. The playoffs were going to be different, as all teams were allowed to participate, and the HARBIN computer rankings were tossed aside.

Every fall sport completed a full season, and every football team, beside West Muskingum, took part in the expanded postseason.

bhannahs@gannett.com

740-450-6763

Twitter: @brandonhannahs

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