By Ed Morrone
As the calendar has swung into mid-April and the temperature outside begins to more consistently resemble that pristine spring weather Philadelphians wait all year for, the spring sports arm of the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club (CHYSC) had hoped to be enjoying it outside.
Unfortunately, like just about everything else, sports are on hold for CHYSC. The club, in a letter emailed to members dated April 6 from club president Ken Flaxman, announced that CHYSC had canceled all of its spring sports due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do not take this decision lightly,” Flaxman wrote. “For us to even have a partial season, we would need to get started by the beginning of May. The reality is that with the social distancing guidelines in place as the country attempts to flatten the curve, no one is going to be playing youth sports anywhere for the foreseeable future. At this point we are going to move on and give out refunds for all spring registrations, and afterward focus our energy on planning for the fall sports seasons.”
Both Flaxman and Brien Tilley, CHYSC Baseball Commissioner, used the words “great disappointment” in describing the process it took to reach this final decision. In the end, the club, which came up with several contingency plans to play shortened or modified seasons if the situation safely called for it, ran out of time and options.
“We knew it was doubtful, but we were going to do everything we could,” Tilley said. “We had to act reasonably in a situation where we didn’t have much control. As soon as schools closed for the year, that made it pretty clear that there was no clear path to getting kids together in groups to play sports in the immediate future.”
The cancellations will affect CHYSC’s Junior League baseball program (ages 5-12), all lacrosse programs and travel soccer teams playing in spring leagues and tournaments. Fall travel soccer tryouts, previously scheduled for May 3, are postponed indefinitely.
For now, the CHYSC Senior League baseball program (ages 13-19) is still on, since that season takes place over the summer. The status of that program will be updated as summer draws nearer. Meanwhile, registration fee refunds will begin going out to families this week; Tilley said that many families have already expressed intentions to donate the fees back to the club to support future programming.
With that in mind, Tilley and the club are working to use technology and available resources to make sure the players in the program stay sharp and busy. Tilley said the priority now is getting resources uploaded to the club’s website (chysc.org), things like videos and coaching curriculums that players can watch and replicate in their homes or backyards in the absence of organized practices and games. There are already several resources available for younger players on the site, and, with the club being affiliated with Ripken Baseball, there are also more than a half-dozen videos featuring Cal and Billy Ripken teaching some of the older players essential fundamentals of the game.
“These curriculums introduce certain skills and drills each week and are things you can do in the backyard, basement or living room with a softer ball,” Tilley said. “The Ripken videos introduce everything from stance to hitting drills to correcting certain things players may be struggling with, like not loading or shifting your weight properly. There’s also fielding, base running, and throwing videos to learn from while having fun.”
For Tilley, the finality of the decision was devastating to grapple with. Not only has Tilley coached baseball at CHYSC for 12 years — spending the last six as commissioner — but his three children, Sebastian, 16, Branden, 13, and Meredith, 10, have grown up playing sports with the club. CHYSC is a huge part of the Tilley Family’s lives, and the same can be said for a plethora of other families throughout the community.
“It’s very disappointing, particularly for all the kids,” Tilley said. “We would have been thrilled to put together even a four-to-six game season, or something even less informal than that if we didn’t have time for a season. Just informal nights of getting together, we would have done that. All the commissioners of the spring sports worked hard to find any viable plans, but with schools and rec centers closed, we would just be guessing on when normal life would resume. It’s a great disappointment, but we felt it was the prudent thing to do.”
While things may be far from ideal at the moment, Tilley stressed that players and families should cherish this additional time together.
“All we can do is make the best of it,” Tilley said. “Hopefully the upside of what we’re all going through is maybe families will get to do things together that they weren’t before, whether that’s playing run the bases together in driveways or on lawns. Hopefully they’ll remember that time spent with their moms and dads and siblings more than any games we would have played. Maybe that’s something they hadn’t ever done together before. Hopefully, we can find an upside to the entire situation.”
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