BRATTLEBORO—While the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening in the southern and western states, Vermont has one of the lowest infection rates in the nation.
Gov. Phil Scott and his administration credit their strategy of reopening the state slowly, coupled with most Vermonters wearing masks when they out in public, for keeping the coronavirus outbreak under control here.
So, after weeks of waiting, the state has given the green light to Windham County’s recreation departments and youth sports league to open the parks and ball fields this summer.
But things do look different.
The Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department will hold their various summer day camps, but only 75 swimmers at a time will be allowed at the Living Memorial Park pool.
The Brattleboro Area Men’s Softball League has switched to one-pitch games, with a one-hour time limit.
Brattleboro Little League has started play, but no state or regional tournaments will take place this summer.
With the Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball season cancelled nationwide, teams around Vermont founded an independent league with respective divisions for players 14 and under, 16 and under, and 19 and under to fill the void. Brattleboro and Bellows Falls will be both fielding teams.
Cooling off in a socially distant way
The pool at Living Memorial Park and the Rotary water playground were first to open, but Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte said demand for the site hadn’t reached its original limit of 20 patrons for each hour of reserved swim time.
The slots were for one hour each, following 15 minutes for disinfecting.
On June 30, the pool capacity increased to 75 patrons. Separate general swim sessions will now run from 1 to 4 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m., with no reservations required. The pool with be closed in between the two sessions for disinfecting.
The changing rooms and snack bar remain closed. Benches and chairs are not provided.
“The [reservation] process had been fine, but the users have been really low,” Lolatte said last week. “I’m at a loss and shocked we haven’t had our slots filled the entire time.”
Before swimmers enter the grounds they must answer questions about medical history and have their temperatures taken. A reading above 100.4 means no entrance. This requirement has not been an issue, said Lolatte.
The pool already has the recommended 1-to-4 parts per million of chlorine to kill potential viral germs on all touched surfaces, such as the waterslide.
The Recreation & Parks Department is also offering six camps this summer ranging in different lengths, though no swim lessons are offered this summer. The first few weeks have gone well, according to Lolatte.
One can sign children up for Day Camp, Gymnastics Camp, Flag Football, Mad Science Camp, Tennis Camp, or Magical Earth Retreats by calling 802-254-5808.
The first two weeks of camps have had full attendance and are now opening for 60 slots in the coming weeks.
“We have six drop-off locations instead of everyone together, and we are only doing small group activities,” Lolatte said, stating that those groups stay together the entire day.
“Everything is much much smaller,” she said. “The kids have been great and are following directions — we have not had any issues.”
A one-pitch league
The Brattleboro Area Men’s Softball League started organized play on July 6, with new restrictions.
Commissioner Ryan Squires said he owes it all to Lolatte and the Recreation Department, which maintains the field. The fields have been open for roughly a month and are loosely maintained.
Users have to properly socially distance themselves. Squires said all the details are still being completely worked out, but many COVID-19-related rules will be imposed, such as teams using own balls, wiping down each bat with disinfectant, and no using the scoreboard.
The start of play is great news for the Brattleboro Family Health Care (BFHC) team. The team has been in the league for 47 years, and BFHC founding player/manager Dr. Bob Tortolani still finds joy on the field.
“I’m very happy that the town of Brattleboro and Carol are allowing us to play with the restrictions. It’s all about safety,” Tortolani said. “I think we can play safely, and I’m very pleased for my team and to see my friends again. The restrictions are all fine.”
Squires said that because the state wasn’t allowing competitive play back in May, when the season would have normally started, the 2020 season was initially called off. But not long after the league canceled the season, the Scott administration started to relax the emergency measures.
“Right when we decided that the restrictions were too much, there were all these new developments,” Squires said. “I was working on a proposal of something that would be attractive to the town and follow CDC guidelines. I had to keep asking Carol a million things.”
Squires recounted the impetus for the effort.
“I had a big issue when I heard Planet Fitness was opening,” he said — as he saw it, it was fine to pack people into a gym but you couldn’t play baseball.
“Those types of things don’t make sense to me as a Vermonter,” he said.
In the one-pitch format, a batter is out if the ball hits the strike mat without a swing, if the batter swings and misses, or in the event of a foul ball. A batter will draw a walk with one bad pitch. All this will add stress to pitchers and batters alike.
Squires is implementing a rule that an inning cannot start after one hour of play.
These adaptations essentially guarantee complete seven-inning games in under one hour.
The softball league does not require that players wear masks while playing, but spectators and coaches will be asked to do so.
The 19 teams in the league — down from 35 in 2019 — will play two games a night, at 6:30 and 8 p.m., respectively. All players and spectators must leave after their game.
The nine-game regular season and double elimination playoff will continue to provide “a big outlet for our adult community” despite so many fewer games, he said.
“Our managers are on board with everything [rule-wise],” Squires said.
Youth sports resume
The Scott administration is allowing low-contact, short-duration sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and hockey to begin practicing and organizing leagues. The one requirement is that everyone is mindful and tries to socially distance to the “greatest possible extent.”
Youth baseball, which took a big hit over the past months, will get going again this summer.
The Brattleboro Little League season began July 6 and runs until mid-August. Children ages 9 to 12 of any gender are welcome to play.
Older players looked like they would be left out, since there is no official Babe Ruth or American Legion baseball this summer. However, Eric Libardoni and other coaches around Vermont organized independent leagues for boys 13 to 19 years old.
Brattleboro will play its home contests at Dummerston School’s Gouin Field on Route 5. The Bellows Falls teams will play at the Hadley Field complex at Bellows Falls Union High School.
The south division in the 19-and-under league also has teams from White River Junction, Bennington, Lakes Region, Manchester, and Rutland.
Brattleboro’s first game for the 19-and-under team was against Bellows Falls on July 2 at Gouin Field. Aside from the umpires wearing masks and a requirement for each team to provide their own baseballs to use exclusively when they were in the field, it looked and felt like a normal night at the ballpark.
Libardoni’s team edged Bellows Falls 9–7, in an action-packed game that featured plenty of offense and a bit of rustiness on the part of both teams — a byproduct of having the high school season wiped out by COVID-19.
Brattleboro was able to get seven full practices in before the July 2 opener.
“It’s just good to finally get out here to play,” said Libardoni, who coached the Post 5 team last year to a state Legion championship. “It was really tough for them to not be able to play baseball this spring.”
Most of the star players from last year have aged out of Legion ball, so Libardoni says he has lots of younger players that are only a couple of years removed from Little League.
“They’re super young, and there is a lot of situational baseball for them to learn, but everybody’s on board and excited to have baseball back.”
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