Recreational sports leagues are back in full force for the spring season — much to the delight of families and youngsters who’ve resumed their positions.
“Two years after, people are really excited to get this part of their lives back, and we are happy to be able to do it as volunteers,” John Piccard, president of SFX Youth Sports, an all-volunteer recreational youth sports team based in Brooklyn, told Brooklyn Paper.
Recreational sports leagues were given the green light to begin without restrictions this past winter, allowing kids to play contact sports for the first time since spring 2020, when organized youth sports were put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Later that year, city Parks Department reluctantly agreed to issue permits for low-to-moderate risk sports after an organized push from Brooklyn youth sports leaders, electeds and parents. Since the state only allowed no-contact, outdoor sports, some leagues used the fall as an opportunity to revisit some games missed that spring.
“We started up fall baseball and fall softball as we wanted to basically make up for lost time,” Piccard said. “The families and the players were excited to get back to anything they could.”
Now, as pandemic-related mandates ease across the country and the state, presidents of the borough’s recreational leagues are happy to leave restrictions behind and bring back a sense of normalcy for kids who have suffered through social isolation, and give them an opportunity to see their friends outside of school.
“It feels great, we are back to normal,” said Tom Henderson, Little League Commissioner at the 68th Precinct Youth Council. “It’s great to see the kids’ smiling faces.”
Youth sports organizations have a choice as to what COVID protocols they will continue to keep in place after they are no longer mandated to, but no one league is the same — while the 68th Precinct Youth Council has decided to be rid of all protocols, SFX Youth Sports has asked student-athletes and volunteers to self-report whether they are feeling sick or have tested positive for COVID.
“Other than that self-reporting,” said Piccard. “No, not in our league. No mask mandates unless the player or their families want them to wear a mask.”
Henderson said there have been some logistical challenges imposed by the pandemic which they have had to work around, such as the ongoing supply chain issues impacting buying uniforms for the kids.
“We’ve had some challenges,” he said. “You hear about these supply chain issues, but getting the kid’s uniforms has been crazy, normally I order uniforms and they’re there a week later. I ordered half in January and by mid-March, they didn’t have them and we had to go with a different company.”
Enrollment is seeing a spike since reopening, both sports league heads told Brooklyn Paper, which they attribute to the physical, mental and social benefits of team sports and staying active for kids.
“Our numbers are growing now,” Henderson said. “Especially in the younger groups. The T-ball kids and the explorers, I am up like 40 percent in those numbers.
The increase amounts to SFX Youth Sports bringing on 30 additional teams this spring and the 68th Precinct Youth Council seeing approximately 40 percent more kids in the T-ball and Explorer leagues.
Youth sports also teach children certain life skills like how to work on a team, and how to lose or win gracefully— lessons the league presidents say they still use in their daily lives.
“They can form new relationships with people they might have never come into contact with, people from different neighborhoods, different socio-economic backgrounds,” Piccard said. “Dealing with adversity, understanding how to lose gracefully understanding that is something I have to overcome.
Most importantly, playing sports with other children is a way for kids just to enjoy being a kid.
“It just lets them be kids, they got to be around other kids,” Henderson said. “They got to run around, they got to get out there. Not every kid has to be the best at their sport, as long as they get out there, run around and exercise.”