200521_ct_corona_mac_column

A St. Louis youth baseball tournament organizer held a travel event with 550 players just one week after Gov. Mike Parson lifted stay-at-home orders.

Rob Worstenholm, a youth baseball organizer based out of St. Louis, made national headlines last week when he staged a tournament that included 47 teams and about 550 kids. This event took place at two venues outside of St. Louis less than a week after Gov. Mike Parson lifted the statewide stay-at-home order on May 4 to allow a phased recovery plan.

Worstenholm told Time magazine that his decision has garnered two very different responses: some people want to elect him president and others want him to be court-martialed. He wagers that it’s a 50-50 split.

I’m hoping his polling ability missed the mark as much as his idea to hold this tournament during this stage of the pandemic.

The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County are still under stay-at-home orders because of the current level of COVID-19 hospitalizations so Worstenholm held the event in neighboring Jefferson County and St. Charles County. He touted how his tournament took extra safety measures, going above and beyond the state’s safety guidelines by changing the rules to the game to increase social distancing during play.

Players were spread out down the fence line with only three players allowed in the dugout at one time. Fist bumps and handshakes were forbidden. Umps were moved to 6 feet behind the pitcher’s mound — hopefully with a good enough vantage point to avoid the types of calls that usually draw a coach onto the field to argue, which is another banned action.

Many of the policies seem like smart moves for when baseball leagues try to resume. But here’s the problem: none of the events’ safety measures change the fact that nearly 50 teams traveled to the same location with players, parents and coaches interacting at the ballpark and in hotels before eventually heading home. Some may have been infected with the virus.

Most Americans have spent the last two months following CDC social distancing guidelines to help flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases. Parson’s plan, and others like it around the country, were meant to slowly get businesses moving again while limiting unnecessary risk.

No matter how passionate you are about sports, it should be clear that sporting events are an unnecessary risk and should be the last step in the reopening process. This type of travel tournament should be the last step in the sports reopening process.

The first step is one already taken by many of the high school athletes that I’ve talked to in the Northland. Many have found ways to train and communicate with coaches and teammates while maintaining social distancing measures. In areas where COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to trend down, it’s possible for some summer club teams to start practicing together. Those teams could eventually move on to facing other teams in their area.

Local parks and recreation departments in Liberty, Kearney and Smithville have already decided to take extra precaution by canceling their summer youth leagues. This is the right approach.

Of course, this comes as national sports leagues like the MLB and NBA discuss restarting game action. According to reports, the NFL sent a memo setting protocols for teams to establish by May 15 as preparation for reopening practice sites.

I’m still not sure these leagues can avoid unnecessary risk, but they are more equipped to keep up social distancing guidelines and adequate testing than most local sports organizations.

These leagues have also shown to this point that they know it’s a process.

Worstenholm decided to jump straight to the end of that process. The decision is more than an unnecessary risk, it’s a public health blunder.

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