The lost summer: COVID-19 impacts Dover Parks & Rec’s programs

A Lake Forest player (facing camera) tries to block an advance from a Dover Senator during Thursday’s summer league field hockey game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — This has mostly been a lost summer for the city of Dover Parks and Recreation Department, as it has been forced to cancel many of its most popular programs, including youth soccer leagues, the adult softball league and many other activities, due to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, there have been a couple of sparkling jewels that have emerged during the era of face masks and social distancing, including an amended version of Parks and Rec’s popular Summer High School Field Hockey League that sports coordinator Steve Pickering has put together.

The league, pretty much the only game in town right now, has attracted 250 field hockey players and kicked off July 6 with athletes, officials and spectators following social distancing and face-covering guidelines. The games are held at Schutte Park on Monday and Thursday evenings.

The Lake Forest goalie stops a shot at goal with her foot. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“The High School Field Hockey League is one of our bigger leagues,” said Carolyn Courtney of the Parks and Recreation Department. “Steve Pickering has done a phenomenal job of setting up a check-in for each team. Each time they come, we’re getting their temperatures taken, we’re making sure they have their masks, we’re making sure that the players on the benches are situated 6 feet apart, the spectators are in circles, and we’ve asked everyone to wear a mask.

Parents and fans watch the field hockey match between Dover and Lake Forest from a small area of shade Thursday at Schutte Park. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“We have really good signage. It’s really coming along nicely for a program that has so many restrictions and guidelines and changes to how we normally function. We’re serving about 250 high school girls statewide and into Maryland with this league this year. Nobody else could get it offered, and it’s just exploded. That’s really been a lifesaver for us.”

Dover’s Parks and Recreation Department hopes to use the field hockey model to help it expand and, hopefully, offer soccer and volleyball programs this fall.

But other than the field hockey league, this has been one challenging time for Dover Parks and Rec staff.

A posted sign reminds spectators to practice social distancing. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“Parks and Rec staff are dedicated to bringing programs to people and making things available,” said Matt Harline, Dover’s assistant city manager. “It has been difficult for them in trying to lock up playgrounds and tape up playground equipment and all that stuff, and I appreciated all they’ve done to keep things safe, despite people’s desire to use outdoor equipment. It’s nice that we can now have the playgrounds open at least.

“Pretty much everything that started in April, May or June was canceled due to the coronavirus under the directions that were given by the governor’s office. We have recently opened up the playgrounds at the Pitts Center, with walking only (at the facility). We’re now working with the high schools and their response to COVID. Steve Pickering has been able to put together a (field hockey) league using our own field. It’s such an important sport in Delaware,” Mr. Harline said.

There have been other bright spots for the Parks and Rec staff in an otherwise COVID-plagued summer. They were able to kick off the city’s Summer Concert Series on The Green and are planning to bring a Tuesday Movie Night to The Green next month.

They even got a chance to celebrate Easter last weekend — a little late, but still well-attended.

“We bought eggs and the baskets for the Easter egg hunt back in April, which obviously we couldn’t have,” Ms. Courtney said. “Sherwanda (Speaks, recreations specialist) came up with a really neat way to get the Easter egg hunt held last weekend at Schutte Park. We used the softball fields and had various age groups stationed on each field and just asked the kids as they arrived to please social distance. Everyone wore their face masks out.

“It was quite nice. Each softball field had about 30 participants per field. We had more than enough eggs for the kids. They followed the rules — they stayed one kid per circle. They bounced around and got their eggs, and it was a really good morning. About two hours of planning and getting all these eggs laid out was over in maybe two-and-a-half minutes. It’s a fast event.”

Some other positive things going on with the Parks and Recreation Department include a soul line dance class that is held outside of the Pitts Recreational Center on Thursday evenings, where C&K Soul hosts line dancing. Class participants come, register on-site and dance their problems away. There are special decals in the parking lot, and participants pick a spot and get moving, while maintaining social distancing.

“We still can’t do the inside-of-the-facility programming, but this particular instructor (with C&K Soul) said, ‘Yeah, let’s do something outside,’ ” said Ms. Courtney. “So, we set her up outside, and now, she’s dancing away in front of the building. That class, typically on an inside night, had about 19 participants, and she’s averaging about 15 participants, so it’s coming back.”

Ms. Speaks also came up with the idea of a “grab and go” craft kit for the youngsters. On Wednesday afternoons, children and their families can swing by the Pitts Recreation Center and pick up their kits.

“Ms. Speaks was unable to do any of the summer camps,” Ms. Courtney said. “The guidelines for the summer camps were so stringent this year, but she came up with the idea of a ‘grab and go’ craft kit. We’re set out front with staff, and we have a pre-made kit with instructions and also just some fun weekly flyers.

“It’s just some ideas to help keep the summer going along and offer something a little active, something a little different.”

During the first week of the craft kit program, Parks and Rec staff handed out around 25 kits, and the second week they increased to 75, showing there has been a positive response to that program and interest in what the city has to offer kids.

It’s a far cry from all the programs Parks and Recreation typically handles over the summer, but they said they are doing their best under some difficult conditions.

Precautions put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have impacted programming such as tae kwon do and adult fitness classes (yoga, Zumba), which were canceled for the remainder of the summer. The youth soccer league also had to be canceled along with the adult softball leagues. Summer and sports camps also took a hard hit and were called off.

“We’re looking to try to do more programming,” Ms. Courtney said. “Sherwanda Speaks is looking to try and offer some virtual craft formats. We’re looking at seeing how other people are doing it and how we can apply it. We’re looking at how she can do more craft things in late summer to keep these kids entertained.

“But we also have to be cost-effective. Unfortunately, our revenues have clearly taken a hit with no summer camps and no sports camps. Our leagues took a hit. We refunded a ton of money for soccer in the spring,” she said.

“We are hoping to get an adult church fall softball league going, and we’re looking into different avenues for that. We won’t have umpires, so it will look a little different, but people want to get out and have recreation, and we’re trying to figure out ways to do it safely, meeting our COVID guidelines, and provide for our community.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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