Why haven’t youth sports returned to fields in the city of Savannah?


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – While many youth sports leagues and tournaments are back on in the state of Georgia, the city of Savannah is still trying to develop a plan to make sure its teams can return in a safe manner.

On Tuesday, Mayor Van Johnson announced that the city’s recreational facilities would be reopened only for individual use this week. Mayor Johnson went on to say this decision does not apply to the city’s youth sports leagues or tournaments.

“The city is having internal meetings among our team to determine how and when to do that,” Nick Zoller, senior director of the city’s marketing and communications team said in a phone interview. “We do have an eye on restarting leagues, we are just trying to figure it out at this point.”

As the city conducts those meetings, people involved in the youth sports scene are getting frustrated with the timeline.

“There’s enough good examples out there,” Ty Rietkovich, national showcase director for Softball Factory, said. “Why can’t we follow one of those examples and get our kids back out onto the field?”

Rietkovich brought his showcase tournaments to Allen E. Paulson Park in Savannah annually until the shutdown in March 2020 forced him to move his events to cities with open ballparks.

He says places like Valdosta, Georgia welcomed him with open arms. In a pinch, Rietkovich said he was even able to relocate a tournament to Ambuc Park, a cluster of baseball and softball fields just down the road from Paulson Park.

Rietkovich was able to do that because Paulson Park is owned by the city of Savannah and the city’s current COVID-19 regulations don’t allow teams to use the recreational fields yet. Ambuc Park, meanwhile, is owned by Chatham County, which has a different set of COVID-19 guidelines that do allow teams to take the field.

WSAV was alerted to more information when PrepSportsReport’s Travis Jaudon tweeted about concerns he’d been hearing from people in Savannah.

The Savannah Bananas play at Grayson Stadium, a city-owned field, and played an entire season under guidelines agreed upon between the team and the city. Meanwhile, youth leagues and tournaments, who also depend on city-owned fields, have been forced to relocate or not play at all.

“Just because we haven’t announced it reopening at this point doesn’t mean we won’t have the leagues,” Zoller explained. “We are just asking for patience to let us work out how that might work. I’m not promising that it will happen, I’m just saying it’s our goal to look at how we can get to a new normal.”

During the pandemic, Rietkovich said every city he’s proposed bringing his events to will ask for the COVID-19 protocols that will be enforced at the tournament.

“Our teams and our players have been willing to do whatever they have to do to play,” Rietkovich explained. “Whatever hoops I set up, they jump through. All they say is, walking out of the gate, ‘Thank you for putting this on, thank you for giving us a chance, and see you next year.'”

When asked what the city’s response would be if a tournament director or coach approached them agreeing to follow the same guidelines as the Bananas, Zoller did not commit to giving them the green light.

“I think we are going to have to approach things as they come,” Zoller answered. “I don’t feel comfortable working in any theories with COVID. It’s been unexpected at every turn.”

At the end of the day, Rietkovich said he harbors no ill will towards the city. He just hopes to get his teams back on the field sooner rather than later.

“It’s nothing personal. They feel like they are doing what’s best for the citizens of Savannah,” Rietkovich added. “[Tournament directors] know how to operate safer so why hasn’t everything progressed that way.”

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