BRISTOL - 2020 marked the first time the Little League World Series and its preceding regional tournaments for both baseball and softball were canceled as bringing teams together from all over the United States posed great danger to everyone involved.
This year, with many modifications to how the tournaments are conducted, little league baseball and softball are back on the national stage and Bristol is back to hosting teams from all over the northeast for a chance to reach the Little League World Series. The softball regional tournament concluded last week with minimal issues, which has the people now preparing for the baseball tournaments more excited as they know they have strategies that are effective.
“All of the planning and the dedication of getting those [tournaments] underway was kind of lost,” Corey Wright, operations managing director for the east and central regions of Little League International, said. “Keeping the kids safe, along with our staff and volunteers, was primary, but disappointing to say the least. Not only as a staff, but all our volunteers throughout the country and throughout the region really work hard at the tournament to see that pay off for the kids, I think the word disappointing would be an understatement. We knew after getting through it we could look forward to 2021 and here we are.”
Some of the changes made to keep everyone as protected as possible are keeping teams in pods by themselves to minimize interactions between teams off the field, scheduling rotations for meals, practices and recreational activities and frequently testing everyone who is unvaccinated, which includes many of players as the vaccine is not available for anyone below the age of 12. Masks are also required by everyone, vaccinated or not, when they are around children and spectators are restricted to anyone who received a friends and family pass from the team they are affiliated with that can only be used when their team is playing.
Any team that has someone test positive for covid is automatically required to leave, which had to be enforced once during the softball tournament, eliminating the team from Pennsylvania after one game.
“The planning that goes into it, it took months,” Wright said. “It took a lot of people putting their heads together to come up with a plan that would keep everyone safe, but also [allow them] to enjoy the tournament. We want the kids to be here and have an experience that they’ll go home to remember because that’s most important. There’s going to be teams that go on to the world series, but more than half of them are not, so it was important that we give them the experience that they would go home and be proud of. But we had to do it in a safe way, too.”
Wright added he is pleased with how the protocols took shape during the softball tournament aside from the one positive test, which is primarily out of the organizers’ control. There will be tweaks made to how the baseball tournament is executed, but the overall plan, which was developed in consultation with an independent health commission and other medical professionals, will look the same.
All of the teams and parents of players are briefed on what will be expected of them before arriving in Bristol and based on everybody’s understanding and familiarity of these rules like this over the past 16 months, no one at Little League is particularly worried about compliance.
“The kids adapt really well and it’s easy for them to adapt and conform to a policy and procedure, just like they do in school,” Wright said. “It’s easier for a kid to adapt to a teacher than it is for a teacher to adapt to every single kid.
Baseball games begin in Bristol on Aug. 8 as the teams for the tournament were finalized earlier this week. With everyone involved in the tournament expected to be on the same page about all of the necessary rules to earn a world series berth, this year’s little league experience is set to yield a positive experience for nearly all of the kids.
“Everybody has a head start on expectations and the protocols for when they get here, so I’m very optimistic because it worked very well for our softball region,” Wright said. “Everybody worked together, they were understanding and I look forward to the same for baseball.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.