How one league pulled off a sandlot season and returned to play

Rhyne Park Girls Softball is a recreational league outside of Atlanta, Georgia that brings over 200 players from different schools together each season.

Despite over 20 years of playing ball in the community, no one at Rhyne Park could have anticipated the challenges brought on by the 2020 season.

Navigating COVID-19 Closures

Like many youth sports programs across the country, Rhyne Park’s Spring season was suddenly cut short when COVID-19 (Coronavirus) case numbers surged, and federal and local governments began implementing safety guidelines to slow the spread.

Rhyne Park had already drafted teams and started practicing when they received the news from the county. The park was being shut down.

“Everyone thought we would only miss one or two weeks,” said league president April Voris. But as the shelter-in-place went on, they realized it would be a while before they could return to the field.

During this time, April recognized the importance of maintaining constant communication with the players’ parents. The board worked diligently to keep everyone informed on the latest updates through email, website posts, and social media.

After several weeks, when COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, the board surveyed members about the options for a return to play, allowing them to vote on what they were most comfortable with. The vast majority voted to return for a shortened sandlot-style season.

Setting New Guidelines

Prior to re-opening for the sandlot season, the Board met virtually many times to discuss what new measures were needed to keep players and their families safe. Many of these new protocols came from U.S. Softball’s established guidelines as well as community regulations. They included measures such as:

  • Health and safety rules posted at the park
  • COVID waivers required for participation
  • Closing the dugouts for social distancing
  • Protocols for reporting if you get sick or are exposed to someone who is sick

The park re-opened in June, allowing the sandlot season to kick-off. The season was free and optional, with players attending when they could, wearing whatever uniform they had. The goal was to make it a fun, safe, and pressure-free mini-season for the girls and their families. Over 80 players participated over the four-week season.

“Sandlot was spawned totally out of the impacts of COVID. We had never done it before,” said April. “We really saw a lot of positive feedback.”

Return to “Normal” Play

After a successful sandlot season with extensive safety measures, many parents and players were comfortable returning in the Fall. Nearly 120 players registered to play. April attributes this to giving parents the opportunity to see the league’s safety measures in action.

Their safety guidelines remain in place for the Fall season, including social distancing efforts, keeping equipment separate, sanitizing dug-outs between games, and wearing masks when possible. In order to set a good example for members, Board members always wear masks while at the park.

One parent even donated customized gaiters as a fundraiser for the league.

“We have gotten really good feedback. They were really grateful that we were having sports and had done so much preparation to be able to return to play,” said April. “I think what they have seen is that their kids are actually doing better at home because they have been outside participating in an activity and gotten to see their friends and have social interaction.”

Sports Connect Made it Easy

Rhyne Park leaned on their Sports Connect integrated tools for a successful return to play. Some of the tools that helped the Rhyne Park Board navigate these new waters included:

  • Waivers in Registration: “Being able to integrate our COVID waiver right into registration was super helpful. I didn’t have to go in and do it later.”
  • Email Communication: “It’s really easy to use and saves the Board a lot of time because I don’t have to download all the emails and send out communication from another program.”
  • Texting: “If for some reason I have to cancel games or there’s an immediate need for communication, texting is a really nice feature that we use.”
  • Best-in-Class Support: “When we have a question, we have been able to use the support widget. We have also used the training videos which have been very helpful.”
  • Integration with GameChanger Team Manager: “We finally have all of our coaches using it, so when we do a schedule update, it’s all integrated. The integration is fantastic.”
Three Key Take-Aways From Rhyne Park

As Rhyne Park moves on to their Fall season, April says there are three main takeaways from their successful sandlot experience that can be applied to any league navigating the impact of COVID-19.

  1. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate. “There’s no such thing as over-communication right now. Parents want to know what’s going on.
  2. Have your plan in place. “What we found is people want to know you have a plan, and then they’re more comfortable.
  3. Families appreciate being asked their opinion. “We didn’t just make a decision. Before the sandlot season, we respected how they felt and listened to what the majority of the league wanted.”
Serving Our Partners

Our youth sports partners across the nation are at many different stages of return to play. Some are still on hold, some are hosting shortened seasons, and some have successfully resumed with new safety measures. Like you, our top priority is the safety of your players and members. We are proud of our partners’ resilience during a difficult season and look forward to serving you as players get back on the field.

For more information on the ways Sports Connect can help your organization safely return to play, check out our Emergency Response Guide.