On a regular Saturday the parks would be full, field after field after field.
Pick any athletic complex in Texoma and you would see it. Soccer matches. Baseball and softball games. 7-on-7 football.
Hundreds of kids getting to play the sports they love. Maybe it was their first time to try something new. Maybe it was becoming a passion. Maybe it was going to be the start of something bigger, leading to a standout high school or even college career.
This is where it all takes place, starting as young as four years old and up into the teens. But the fields have been empty for weeks now. There is no racing the sunset for a practice during the week. There are no jammed parking lots since the sun comes up to open the weekend.
The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on all sports around the globe — from the richest athletes in professional leagues, to the best the world has to offer for the Olympics, to every little boy and girl who idolizes them.
Youth sports are in the same boat as the pros these days, waiting for their opportunity to get back out there. Organizations such as the Sherman Youth Sports Association, Denison Little League and the Texoma Soccer Association had no choice but to shut down their respective leagues this spring. And they have no idea when they might be able to return.
“I'm sure every league is going to deal with this with COVID-19,” Sherman Youth Sports Association League Coordinator Laurie Jarvis said. “There's too much risk.”
The Sherman Youth Sports Association is a non-profit, volunteer organization that offers six sports — baseball, softball, basketball, football, 7-on-7 football and cheer.
The baseball and softball leagues, consisting of age groups for 6-and-under, 8-and-under, 10-and-under, 12-and-under and 14-and-under, were on the verge of starting. Baseball's opening ceremonies were to be on Saturday. Softball was supposed to start last weekend.
On Tuesday night, the board voted to cancel both the baseball and softball seasons and made the announcement on Thursday afternoon.
“As a board we decided to follow Sherman ISD and then Sherman Parks and Rec has closed the facilities,” Jarvis said. “It was a really difficult decision. We have a lot of coaches and kids who want to play. The parents have concerns about the safety of the kids. There's definitely mixed emotions there.”
There are around 600 kids in baseball and softball that were affected. And that is just in the SYSA, not taking into account the total number of participants across Grayson County.
“It's thousands of kids,” Jarvis said. “It's hard because for some of them this is their only outlet outside of school to play these sports.”
On March 17, the SYSA Executive Board had updated its initial decision from four days prior when it suspended all activities through March 23. The delay would go through April 6 — two days after Opening Ceremonies were to be held — and there remained hope to have some semblance of a schedule but also understood that it would be an evolving situation.
“As always, we appreciate everyone's patience and cooperation during this time,” the SYSA statement said. “The safety of our players and their families is always our main priority and we feel this is the best decision we can make under the current circumstances.”
But earlier this week Governor Greg Abbott released protocols directing all Texans to minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household and extended the deadline for that through April 30. School districts across the state are closed through May 4.
Denison Little League made the decision to cancel its season on March 20, in part because of the City of Denison had suspended use of its facilities and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggested groups of more than 10 people be prohibited. Before COVID-19 became an obstacle, the league had held tryouts and a draft as well as ordered jerseys and equipment.
“We understand the importance of keeping our players, coaches and families safe during this extremely challenging time,” the league announced. “Due to the unknown, the board felt it was in the best interest of everyone to forego the season rather than waiting it out.”
While the season won't be played, the organization would like to have a competition during the summer if circumstances allow.
“It is our hope that sometime in the future we are able to host pickup games or some type of event that brings our players together and gives them an opportunity to play the game many of them love,” the statement said. “We sincerely appreciate the support many have shown during this challenging time.”
Much like everyone else having to deal with safety issues and schedules already in place, the Texoma Soccer Association initially just cancelled the matches that were going to be held that first weekend, March 14, but that was because of bad weather.
Then everything for the next week — practices, games and pictures — was called off as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. On March 22, the group extended the delay through April 6.
The Texoma Soccer Association has 25 leagues that within its ranks, starting at age four and then going up by year to age 15 for both boys and girls. Throw in an under-19 league and an open co-ed group and that is a lot of players affected.
At most, teams were able to play two matches before everything was suspended. The Association said they would have an announcement in the next few days based on Governor Abbott's recent statewide restrictions.