Hats off to sports in the COVID era

Michigan Blue Jays player and Pioneer student Lucas Galante swings his bat to make contact with the oncoming pitch.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing coaches and athletes alike to adapt to new practices in order to keep playing. Swimmers are striving to regain their speed in the water, baseball players are getting back to their season, and P-CEP fall sports are starting up summer conditioning sessions.

It’s the time of year when summer baseball leagues start up in full swing, and many youth teams throughout the Plymouth-Canton community have done just that with some notable changes. 

Baseballs are now cleaned after every practice and game, according to Diana Galante, Canton resident and parent of a Pioneer Middle School Michigan Blue Jays Traylor 12U baseball player. Additionally, spectators cannot use the bleachers but bring their own chairs instead. Teams still use dugouts, but players must practice social distancing and may wear masks while sitting out, and umpires must wear masks and may stand behind the pitcher’s mound instead of behind the catcher in some leagues.

Post-game displays of sportsmanship have required some creativity. Instead of lining up for the traditional handshake, the two teams line up and tip their hats to their opponents, said Galante.

Tehya Balmelle, a Salem sophomore, swims competitively for Lifetime Fitness as well as Salem High School. While Michigan’s Stay-at-Home order was in place, swimmers had to find new ways to train outside of the pool, “I mostly just ran and did some workouts and exercises,” said Balmelle.

Now, the Lifetime Swim Team is able to practice in the water again, but under some particular conditions. The team is required to swim outside, and swimmers have to distance themselves from each other in the lanes. 

Overall, Balmelle is happy to finally resume practices, and said, “I feel like me again, and it’s nice to see my friends again.” 

According to the CDC on its website, there is no known proof that the virus can be transmitted through water.

When it comes to the safety of the swimmers in the water, Balmelle said that as long as proper distancing is maintained, especially from other teams, she has no concerns. 

Currently, Lifetime Swim Team has no swim meets scheduled for the season. “We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to do them,” said Balmelle. 

Other sports are having more difficulties in terms of the ability to open up as usual. Ice rinks in and around Plymouth-Canton remain closed, forcing figure skaters and hockey players to travel farther to find ice. 

“Some skaters have gone to Ohio to skate since some [rinks] are open there. A few kids have gone to other rinks open in Michigan,” said Barb Miller, one of the coaches for the P-CEP Figure Skating Team and figure skating coach at Farmington Hills Ice Arena. 

Rinks such as Kensington Valley Ice House in Brighton have been permitted to remain open by the Brighton Police Department, as long as all visitors follow specific guidelines, while other rinks in Michigan must remain closed. 

Open rinks have updated their policies, now including mandatory masks in the lobby area and temperature checks upon entering the building.

Skaters must sign up in advance for a slot on the ice. “Kids walk in, get temperatures taken, check their name off the list, lace up skates, skate, then get out the door,” said Miller. 

Rinks are limited to 20 people on the ice at once, typically 15 skaters and five coaches. “I felt very comfortable with the spacing,” said Miller.  

Alyne Lemieux, sophomore at Salem High School, skates for the P-CEP Figure Skating team as well as the Crystallettes Synchronized Skating Team in Dearborn, which is part of the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA).

Lemieux has doubts about her upcoming seasons. “I’m concerned that I won’t be able to do synchro because we can’t stay six feet apart. I’m worried about competitions and masks too,” said Lemieux, as facial expression is a critical component of the artistic score in figure skating. 

Getting back to sports after three months off has also shown to be challenging for some athletes. “It feels great, but our muscles tend to get sore more easily,” said Balmelle about getting back in the pool.

Miller said that athletes striving for their best performances will have to take more time to rebuild their endurance and stamina, but already many jumped right back in. “Kids were worried, I was worried, but they all did well and didn’t have a long period of time where they struggled,” said Miller.

Coaches and athletes are definitely unsure what the upcoming season will look like. “Everything’s kind of up in the air right now,” said Miller.

When it comes to sports, especially ones where close contact is necessary, the upcoming season may be in jeopardy. 

Even outdoor sports like football may not be able to have spectators. “It will make the game a little different. We will be able to hear our coaches and teammates better,” Salem sophomore football player Jacob Hazlewood stated in a text message, “[but] home field advantage will be less of a factor.” 

Athletes seem to agree that, regardless of the restrictions, they hope the game can go on.

“I do really hope I have a season.” said figure skater  Lemieux, “I love hanging out with my friends and making good memories.”