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Up in the air and ‘grounded’

Pandemic has closed down youth leagues in the city

After a wet spring during which most kids were stuck inside without much to do, many parents are excited to get their kids moving again by enrolling them in youth sports.

But many questions remain unanswered around how that might ultimately work.

Unfortunately, rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Anderson and surrounding counties, as well as uncertainty about what the fall semester will look like for many students across East Tennessee, all stand in the way of clear answers to any of those questions.

The order keeping the facilities closed is set to expire at the end of August, but that is assuming it won’t be extended. Anderson County’s COVID-19 numbers have gone up steadily since reopening began, with the number of active cases sitting at 252 at the time of writing.

Knox County is much worse at 2,139 cases.

With cases on the rise, it’s uncertain whether Gov. Bill Lee will continue as planned with the reopening, or if he will extend the current phase or even regress to an earlier phase of reopening.

Roger Houck, the city manager for Clinton, said that at this time, the Clinton facilities are still under the governor’s orders to remain closed. That means no youth leagues, no recreational leagues, no games, and no scrimmages.

“We feel it’s not worth the risk,” Houck said. “Currently, the governor’s order expires on Aug. 29, so we’ll have to wait and see. If he allows sports, then we’re encouraging our league to do a fall season.”

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Brown reiterated the sentiment that it’s ultimately not their decision.

“We don’t think the reward outweighs the risk,” Brown said. “We had a horse show a couple weeks ago, and everyone did everything the governor told them to. That meant no spectators, no restrooms, no concessions. There were a whole lot of hoops to jump through, but it was safe and contained. We just can’t do that with youth leagues. It just wouldn’t work.”

Brown reiterated that they don’t have any control over the leagues themselves, only the facilities used.

“All of our sports are run by volunteers or groups,” he said. “We just facilitate for them.”

Things are changing constantly across the country, and, with the rise in cases, it’s unknown whether the restrictions will expire at the end of August. Even if sports are allowed again, though, it’s unknown whether leagues will have the time, between sign-ups, weeks for practice, and then games. Other sports at other levels are having similar troubles, with Clinton High School still unsure about the game schedule when it comes to football. Clinton Middle School recently posted its own schedule, cut down to only six games (three at home, three away) starting on Sept. 17. Even so, orders from the governor or changing plans about school attendance in the fall could still rapidly change everything. “This could all change tomorrow, or next week, or the week after that,” Brown said. “We’re trying to do what the governor’s telling us.”