A group of southern Brooklyn elected officials, families and sports coaches on Aug. 24 called on city officials at Bay Ridge’s Shore Road Park to immediately resume issuing permits for youth sports leagues in time to start up their fall seasons.
“Children and families are desperate to be able to partake in safe, responsible activities despite this pandemic,” said State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents a large swath of southern Brooklyn from Marine Park to Bay Ridge. “As transmission remains low and students already are taking to public and private parks, there is no viable reason why youth sports permits shouldn’t be renewed.”
Citing COVID-19 restrictions, city parks officials posted on their website that the Parks Department would not issue permits for the fall sports season — which runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 — and said the situation would be reassessed later in the fall.
Meanwhile, sports fields are open to the public and are often used for pick-up games, which the politicians argued provides more safety hazards than organized leagues who would have outlined safety conditions and schedules to abide by.
“By allowing group sports but not issuing permits, City Hall is sending a message that pickup games are okay but organized, permitted, youth league sports are somehow not okay. This idea completely defies all available logic,” said Bay Ridge Councilman Justin Brannan.
Youth leagues for low-to-moderate risk sports — where there is low-contact, like swimming and field hockey — were included in Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan, which the city moved into on July 6, but city kids have still been kept away from playing alongside their fellow teammates as of the end of August and into the foreseeable future.
“The mayor’s scattershot approach to what’s allowed and what isn’t continues to mystify and frustrate families and small businesses. There’s no rhyme, reason, or adherence to the reopening standards,” said Congressman Max Rose, who represents Bay Ridge and Staten Island. “Let our kids play and play safely.”
Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander also came out in support of sports organizations like the Brooklyn City Football Club, which plays at parks around the borough.
Parents joined the politicians in support of the return of organized youth sports and vouched for the safety of the programs.
“You see parks are open globally and it really isn’t causing transmission of the virus,” said William Hart, a Prospect Heights parent of three children in the Brooklyn City Football Club. “It doesn’t really make sense that we can’t have organized play when we’re just having people out here anyway.”
On the same day supporters gathered on Shore Road, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that school-sponsored low-risk sports are able to begin practice on Sept. 21 and may begin competing inter-regionally on Oct. 19. High-risk sports, such as football, are similarly able to begin practice on Sept. 21, but cannot play competitively until a later date of Dec. 31.
“The State has done a lot of research on how we can safely have our students participate in school sports and get the exercise they need, and the guidance we developed will allow lower-risk sports to begin practicing and playing next month,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We are approaching youth sports as we have approached everything else in our phased reopening — teams are not allowed to compete outside a school’s region or contiguous region for the time being until we can gauge the effects.”
A spokesman for the city Parks Department said youth sports leagues are still welcome to use the city’s sports field and ballparks but on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“The health and safety of our city is our priority,” said Charisse Hill in a statement. “Our fields remain open for first-come, first-serve socially distanced play — baseball, softball and Little League teams can play or practice on any open field. As this public health crisis is ever-evolving, we will continue to reassess our ability to issue permits later in the fall.”