Non-school fall leagues trying to fill void in youth athletics

Local high school field hockey players have been taking part in summer leagues at DE Turf over the last couple months. Delaware State News file photos

FREDERICA — It looks like Delaware high school athletes won’t be playing sports this fall.

But at least some of them will still be out on the playing fields over the next few months.

Frederica’s DE Turf, for one, is now planning to run leagues for high school-aged players in the fall.

The sports include field hockey, soccer and lacrosse as well as a version of non-tackle football. The leagues will run from mid-September until late October (Deturf.com).

“The ideas behind the leagues is to keep the players active and keep them sharp for the eventual high school season that they will have and keep them sharp for club sports as well,” said Jordan Leblanc, DE Turf’s director of operations and events.

“It’s hard for a kid to stay home for this amount of time and not have any type of physical activities — especially those activities that they have a passion for and that type of outlet that we’re looking to give them here.”

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of directors voted last week to suspend the high school fall sports season until next March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That plan still needs the approval of the state Board of Education, which is meeting to discuss the subject on Friday.

While nobody could have predicted this type of situation, Bill Strickland, the chairman of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, said facilities like DE Turf can really help fill a need right now.

DE Turf is planning high school leagues in a few different sports this fall.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate what would be the effect of a pandemic on the local high schools. But if, in some small way, the Turf can provide an outlet or venue for young athletes to hone their skills, and do so in a competitive environment, I think it’s a great thing.”

DE Turf has already been holding summer leagues for field hockey and soccer since June. It has also hosted 13 tournaments and some soccer camps.

Angie Eliason, the executive director for DE Turf, said participants have been following the protocols to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19. She also pointed out that the state Division of Public Health has twice stopped by the facility unannounced and not found any issues.

“To our knowledge, we’ve had zero incidents of illness, sickness — nothing,” said Eliason. “We don’t have access to every single person who’s here, but the operators have also not been told that anything has happened. No contact tracing has been brought back to us or them.”

“I think Angie and her team are doing a great job of providing appropriate oversight while also allowing the recreational activities to continue,” said Strickland. “I feel good about that.”

Of course, there are differences between school sports and non-school sports that make them more possible to be played in the current situation.

For instance, non-school sports don’t have to deal with transporting teams on buses while somehow maintaining social distancing. They also don’t have to concern themselves with whether the athletes are attending school virtually or in person — as well as a myriad of other logistical issues effecting schools right now.

At last week’s DIAA board meeting, the question was asked about why youth sports have been competing without any apparent virus outbreaks. The DIAA doesn’t have any jurisdiction over non-school youth sports.

Dr. Bradley Bley is a DIAA board member and the group’s medical consultant. He said he’d like to have data from facilities like DE Turf and others around the state so officials can better understand what they’re dealing with.

Bley said he’s received some anecdotal information and some photos from youth camps from parents worried about precautions. But he said trying to keep track of health information for the state’s youth athletes as a whole is something of new territory.

“From my conversations with them, the division of public health doesn’t really oversee youth sports typically,” said Bley. “Nobody really does per say — from a health standpoint. It makes it a little difficult when everybody’s kind of in new territory there to keep an eye on them.

“If we’re not hearing about an obvious, huge outbreak, that may be a good sign that it’s fairly safe,” he added. “The problem with coronavirus is that the delays from diagnosis to where they were potentially exposed could be 10 to 14 days later. That really does make it more difficult.

“There’s no doubt that if everybody’s sharing information, it’s going to make the division of public health’s job a heck of a lot easier and it’s going to make the DIAA’s decision-making process much easier. … If we have the data to show, ‘Look they’re out there playing and they have been playing for months and there’s only been a very small number of cases and it’s been managed appropriately,’ that will help every athlete.”