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YOUTH SPORTS REPORT: Howard County youth leagues adjust to COVID-19 pandemic

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OOPS — Lincoln Mentis (right) prepares to throw the ball back to the coach after fighting off Max Atherton (left) for the catch during practice. The boys play on Greentown's R. Cox and Sons Construction team.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Howard County youth baseball and softball leagues faced a unique situation on whether to have an abbreviated season this summer, postpone until fall, or cancel the remainder of the season altogether.

For baseball leagues Eastside, Northside, Southside, and Northwestern, it led to a tough decision to officially rescind what was left of the baseball seasons. However, Greentown, Taylor Southeast, and UCT baseball leagues decided to begin play as soon as possible while following the appropriate guidelines.

According to the phases of restrictions set by Gov. Eric Holcomb, non-contact community recreational sports leagues were given the green light for practices and games on June 12. But first, the host sponsoring the venue had to submit a plan of precautions to be taken to ensure the safety of competitors, coaches, officials, staff, and spectators, with gatherings of no more than 250 people through July 3. Beginning July 4, gatherings of more than 250 people will be allowed while still practicing social distancing.

In a previous interview, Taylor Southeast President Kirk Wiley commented on the importance of the safety guidelines and social distancing practices in place.

"In the grand scheme of things, you have to think, it’s just baseball. Nobody’s going to remember in 10 or 15 years. Nobody’s going to remember who won this game or who won that game. So, the idea of doing all the social distancing ... I think it’s the right call just because the safety and well-being of our players, their families, the people involved in our league is the number one concern," Wiley said.

UCT began gameplay on Monday, June 15, with Local BBQ and Clifford Signs opening up the first day of play. The league will run through Wednesday, July 29, with Mr. Fireworks and Hot Box Pizza rounding out the UCT baseball season.

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The teams for this year’s UCT league include major league teams: Coke, Cossell’s Landscaping, King’s Heating and Plumbing, Kokomo Glass, McPike Inc., Merrell Bros., Stoney’s Pizza, and Sunspot; minor league teams: CJ’s Carwash, Hot Box Pizza, and Mr. Fireworks; rookie league teams: Clifford Signs, Davis MacDonald and White (DMW) Law, Finch Exterior Solutions, Local BBQ, Windmill Grill, and Wunderlich Landscaping; and T-ball teams: Dr. Culver, Reflections, Community First Bank, Food Precinct, MO Joe Coffee, and Julianno’s.

Since school-affiliated leagues were not permitted to practice or play games on school grounds until July 1, the Greentown and Taylor Southeast teams practiced off-site beginning June 14. The Greentown Lions Club and Ladd Dental will kick off the first game of Greentown’s season on Friday, July 3, with the season ending Aug. 8. Mid-Central Trophy (MCT) versus McGavic Outdoor Power and Coke versus Guarantee Vacuum and Sewing will begin Taylor Southeast’s season on Monday, July 6, with the season also ending Aug. 8.

The teams for this year’s Greentown league include major league teams: Panda Vans, Greentown Lions Club, Ladd Dental, Advantage Outdoor Design, and R. Cox and Sons Construction; minor league teams: Shamrock Storage, Barlow’s Barbershop, and Plevna Implement; rookie league teams: Bill’s Lawn Care, Erik’s Chevrolet, Huston Electric, Carrie Gruel and Associates, Ivy Rehab, and Hochstedler Energy; and T-ball teams: Garage Door Depot, DriGas by Donahue, Century Villa, Bradford Realty, Jerome Christian Church, Greentown Wesleyan Church, and Ivy Physical Therapy.

The teams for this year’s Taylor Southeast League include major league teams: MCT and McGavic Outdoor Power; minor league teams: Guarantee Vacuum and Sewing and Coke; and rookie league teams: Hague Water, H&R Block, Herbst Pharmacy, and Erik’s Chevrolet.

There will be no All-Star games and no city tournament this year.

Russiaville’s baseball league, as well as Greentown, Russiaville, Northwestern, Taylor, and Kokomo softball leagues, currently are working on scheduling fall seasons to begin in August and end in October.