By Rylie Friesen–
The Citrus Heights Little League is moving forward with plans to participate in the upcoming baseball season, unlike last year when the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coach Robert Olivas, president of the little league’s board of directors, told The Sentinel on Saturday that the league has been working hard to provide a season for the player, amid uncertainty.
“For some of these kids, it’s the only thing they love,” said Olivas. “They love baseball, they love their friends– if they don’t have it, they’re just going to sit home and play video games.”
Olivas said the league has made sure to follow all COVID-19 health guidelines. Dugout usage has been banned, and all athletes and viewers are required to maintain six-feet of distance. Players are to bring chairs from home to social distance outside the dugout. Masks are also highly encouraged, but not required outdoors.
Coaches are also hoping to buy gator masks for the players, which are easier to wear for sports. Equipment is not shared between athletes. Olivas said the team is also cleaning the parks every week, but may not be necessary in the future.
“Until they tell us not to, we’re going to keep doing that,” he said.
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Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom released new guidelines allowing youth sports to resume on February 26. Moderate-contact outdoor sports, which includes baseball, are allowed in the Purple Tier COVID-19 classification, if a county drops to 14 or less cases per 100,000 people. Athletes and coaches over age 12 must be tested for COVID every week.
Olivas said the team is not worried about the new rules, as they “prepped and prepared” for the worst-case scenario. The new rules are less-restrictive than what they planned for.
The little league currently has half the registrations as compared to prior years. Olivas said other leagues are also reporting 30-40% registration numbers. Less money is coming in, and the league is spending cautiously. Olivas said the previous board of directors had around 18 members, but since the pandemic began a half-dozen directors have stepped back from active leadership.
“It’s been draining,” said Olivas. “On the families, on the kids. The kids are the most important part.”
Evaluations of players began in January and ended Saturday, Feb. 20th. Players will now be assigned to teams, or drafted, next week, and plan to begin practice next Saturday. Teams generally have one practice and two games a week.
After two months of regular games, the season ends with the Tournament of Champions and All-Stars in June or July. These events happen yearly, where all the leagues in the District 5 area compete, using the best players and teams from each league.
Little leagues generally have clinics, warm-ups, and practices in December, before evaluations in January. However, because of the pandemic, those activities had to be cancelled.
The league is hoping for two teams per division for the Citrus Heights Little League, and some with three or four. Olivas said his league will start playing amongst themselves, but is planning to reach out to other leagues to play games as well.
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Olivas called the local league a “work in progress”, saying the board is constantly holding meetings to ensure the league is at the best where it can be.
Board member Courtney McConnell has three kids in the little league, and said she is excited for them to start playing again.
“I’m very excited. I know we have a lot of kids that are waiting to get out there and play,” she said in an interview at Madera Park on Saturday, where the final day of evaluations were taking place.
The “Let Them Play” movement also helped bring change to the youth sports requirements, according to Olivas.
“It was nice to have people advocating for the kids,” he said. “Let Them Play really helped bring things about.”
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Coach and Equipment Manager Jerry Garcia also advocated for youth sports, and campaigned for the little league with Let Them Play.
“I’ve had two grandsons come through the league, and I felt like I wanted to give something back,” he said. “I’m glad that we’re getting to play finally, especially for the kids.”
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