Daily Times, Delay of game: Adult softball teams playing waiting game
This is the sixth in a series examining how the coronavirus is affecting sports in Delaware County. Coming Next: The pandemic's toll on summer basketball and AAU programs.
By Terry Toohey
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Chris Hoffman held out for as long as he could.
As the commissioner of the Suburban Women’s Slow Pitch League, the only adult women’s softball league in Delaware County, Hoffman hoped he could field a league this season. By the end of April, though, those hopes were dashed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Left with no choice, Hoffman pulled the plug on the 2020 season, which was supposed to start earlier this month. He said it was a difficult decision, but one that was done for safety reasons.
“I thought if I could get it going in the middle of May maybe I can get away with this,” Hoffman said. “At the end of April I said I’ve got to cancel. I’m not risking players. I’m not risking families. I’m not risking umpires. I’d rather just cancel and look forward to next year. I’d rather be on the safe side.”
While the news of the cancellation was disappointing, Megan Brogan of Christopher’s Footprints understood the decision. An assistant softball coach at Downingtown West, Brogan went down the same road when the PIAA canceled the spring sports season in early April.
“It sucks,” Brogan said. “It’s a very strange situation for everyone and I don’t feel I can get mad at it because I have friends that are nurses. My mom was a nurse. I see both sides. I wish we could be playing, but I completely understand wanting to make a decision and standing by it.”
The Suburban Women’s League was the first softball league in Delaware County to cancel its season and it may not be the last. Softball leagues throughout the county are grappling about the decision to play or bag the season. Most are playing a waiting game and holding out hope that they can have some kind of season, whether it is a shortened one or a combination of a summer and fall league that extends into October.
Mike Kingsbury, the commissioner of the Delco Emergency Services League, said his league is looking at having a weekend tournament or a fall league if it has to cancel its spring/summer season, which should be in its second month.
The Millennium Sunday League, the largest men’s slow pitch league in the state with 46 teams, is one of several leagues looking at a hybrid version where it would combine summer and fall seasons into one campaign, league commissioner Joe Organek said. If the league could get started in late July it would scrap the fall league, play the regular season through September and have the playoffs in October, Organek said.
The Millennium League put together a five-question survey and posted it on its message board to gauge what its members want to do as the shutdown moves into its third month with no end in sight.
“We’re going to see if guys just want to wait until the fall or bag 2020 altogether,” said Anthony SanFilippo, who heads up the A/B Division in the Millennium League and is District 6 Commissioner for USA Softball of PA, formerly the ASA. “You never know how people are going to feel about this.”
District 6 has canceled its state qualifying tournaments, which are usually held in May and June. The state organization said no qualifiers will be needed for advanced play this season. It is also looking at moving the state tournaments to later in the season and to areas that go into the green or all-clear phase, SanFilippo said.
Rich Malascalza, the head of the Marcus Hook, Delco Independent and Marcus Hook Coed Leagues, said he was looking at doing a similar hybrid version or even combining all three leagues in a summer/fall format, while taking time off to hold the annual Champs ‘n’ Charity Classic in late August.
The Brandywine Valley and Ches-Del Senior Leagues are also pondering hybrid seasons once the state gives the OK to resume team sports activities.
No one knows when or if that will happen.
Dr. Rachel Levine, the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said recently that no team sports can be played until an area is in the green phase under Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-step process for reopening the state. Delaware County is one of 30 counties in the Commonwealth still in the red phase. The county would have to go through the yellow phase and then the green phase before team sports can resume. “Everything has to fall in place,” Organek said. “That’s where the uncertainty is.”
The other problem is field availability. While county parks and trails are open for walking and running, provided social distancing guidelines are followed, the ball fields are closed. It’s the same for township and municipal fields.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Marc Manfre, the director of parks and recreation for Delaware County. “All recreational permitting for fields are suspended. We’re just following the mandate set by Gov. Wolf and whatever the federal guidelines are.”
The county features several parks that are used for rec sports. Among them are Upland Park, Clayton Park and Incinerator Field. Even if the green light is given it does not mean the parks will be open right away. Manfre said he would have to apply for use of the fields to Delaware County Council.
“(Once) they’re OK with that and satisfied with that, I’ll reach out to all the organizations that are permit holders – softball, track, lacrosse and soccer – and give them the OK to start using our facilities,” Manfre said.
Other facilities, such as Manor Field in Tinicum, don’t have a red tape problem.
“As soon as we get the OK, they’re going to be more than welcome to come back and play,” said Pat McCarthy, the president of the Tinicum Twp. Board of Commissioners and the president of the recreation board and the youth organization. “The fields are being kept up and cut and are ready to go.”
The players are ready to go, too.
Said Ches-Del Senior League boss John Lundell: “We’re sitting back and playing it by ear like everybody else.”