LAMAR, Mo. — The ball fields in Lamar are empty right now, but they won’t be for much longer. In just a few days, kids will be here practicing, getting ready for their youth summer league.
The Lamar Parks and Recreation Department felt it necessary to give kids an outlet in these difficult times.
“We really felt it was best for our community and for the kids to have some kind of sense of normalcy,” Parks and Recreation Director Heidi Johnson said. “If we could provide a safe atmosphere for them to do that, then we wanted to go ahead and have our summer ball leagues.”
Just as important as letting the kids play, is keeping them, their coaches, and spectators safe. They’ve put several guidelines in place that require players and fans to social distance. Dugouts and equipment must be cleaned regularly. Temperatures will be taken. It even extends to where some people can stand on the field.
“We’re having our umpires umpire from behind the pitcher this year, instead of over the catcher like they normally would, Normally that’s a lot of people three people in a pretty small space,” Johnson said.
Lamar is not the only town playing this summer. Joplin will allow practices for their youth tee ball league to start May 26. Pittsburg Parks and Recreation will allow coaches to reserve fields for practices beginning Wednesday. Practices will begin May 18. Dugouts and bleachers will be closed, and coaches are expected to strictly follow social distancing guidelines. Practices time slots have been changed to minimize overlap between teams leaving and arriving at practice.
Webb City and Carthage have already begun practices.
The guidelines put in place in Carthage are extensive. Teams can not share equipment and coolers, with players being asked to bring their own water containers. Spitting and seeds are outlawed, as are high fives, handshakes, and team huddles. The rules, while thorough, have garnered overwhelming support.
“I was a little concerned that the restrictions were not, were going to be viewed as not an environment you could play baseball, you could play softball,” Carthage Parks and Recreation Director Mark Peterson said. “The parents were overwhelmingly more happy just to have the kids involved.”
Even as some parents have opted out of having their kids play, Peterson said he believes participation numbers in Carthage will actually increase, as communities like Sarcoxie and Diamond have decided to not have summer youth leagues.
“A lot of those parents have contact our youth baseball and youth softball about getting their kids into our programs here and youth softball and youth baseball have taken those kids on. They’re talking about having their own team within the league from Diamond or Sarcoxie.”
With new rules and guidelines, the game will look different this year, but it all serves a bigger purpose.
“If you’re on the fence, and you’re worried about whether your kid will be safe, you need to know that our coaches and our office and the city is committed to doing everything we possibly can to keep kids safe,” Johnson said.