Handshake Line

Players shake hands after a game at Sterkel Park. Handshake lines will be prohibited when youth leagues begin play this summer.

LEXINGTON — Mike Bichsel didn’t want to pull the plug, but the president of the Lexington Baseball Softball Association didn’t see any choice.

The LBSA board of directors announced over the weekend the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Mike DeWine last week announced recreational baseball and softball leagues (along with a handful of other non-contact sports) could resume May 26 provided coaches, players and fans adhere to social distancing guidelines drawn up by the state's amateur sports advisory group. The LBSA board held a virtual meeting Saturday morning to discuss the new mandates and decided enforcement would be nearly impossible.

“We were gearing up for the season. We were pretty excited Thursday when we got the news that the state was going to give us the OK to begin practicing on the 26th,” Bichsel said. “I was fearful of what they were going to change on the field of play, that they would make a lot of modifications that would make it difficult just to play the game, but I was really surprised that they really didn’t touch anything on the field.”

The bigger issue, it turned out, was what is being asked of players when they are in the dugout. Athletes are required to wear a face covering at all times, “when not actively participating in the field of play,” according to state regulations.

“With the masks and the other things they had in terms of regulations, I thought it was something we would have to talk about with the board,” Bichsel said. “Then all of the sudden a firestorm started when people saw that (mask regulation).

“We had a flood of people emailing and texting because they had questions about the guidelines and then we had parents who, when the saw the mask thing, outright pulled their kids.”

Many parents raised concerns about potential heat-related illnesses if children are required to wear masks on the bench, Bichsel said.

“Then there was a group of parents and coaches alike who were concerned about how these regulations would be enforced,” Bichsel said. “We had a coach who asked, ‘What if I’m on third base coaching and then all of a sudden I’ve got to stop what I’m doing and go deal with a situation in the dugout because little Johnny decided to take his mask off?’

“Coaches were concerned about removing themselves from the game to deal with all these other antics happening outside the field of play.”

Another of the state mandates coaches are concerned about is the ‘no-touch’ rule. Players will not be permitted to high-five or exchange handshakes.

Additionally, there is to be no eating of sunflower seeds or chewing of gum and players must provide all of their own equipment (helmets, bats, catcher’s gear, etc.).

“Our league is not one of those ultra-competitive leagues,” Bichsel said. “We’re trying to make a fun environment and we just weren’t sure if this is something the kids and their families would enjoy.”

The LBSA is offering full refunds to everyone who has registered. Additionally, Lexington athletes looking for a place to play can join other community leagues, Bichsel said.

Mansfield’s Southwest Little League, along with the Madison and Ontario youth leagues plan to move forward with their seasons. They are all members of the umbrella MOC league.

Southwest Little League has extended its registration deadlines, as have Madison and Ontario.

“We’re seeing an influx of Lexington kids coming our way. We re-opened our registration until Friday just for that reason,” Ontario Youth Sports director Kenn Spencer said. “They’re going to have to answer the same question that we are and the question is how is it safe in Ontario and not safe in Lexington? They’re going to have to answer that question and so are we and I don’t have a great answer.

“I don’t know if any league is doing right or wrong. I completely respect their decision.”

The leagues that are moving forward plan to fully enforce the state social distancing mandates.

“We’re going to make sure the parents adhere to the guidelines that state has set and we’re going to be strict about it,” Madison’s Dave Miller said. “We’re not going to veer away from those guidelines. Coaches and umpires will have to wear face masks, as will the kids on the bench.

“The parents are going to have to understand that, in order to play, those are the guidelines that have been set and we’re going to stick to them.”

Spencer agreed.

“We’re going to 100 percent follow the guidelines set by the state of Ohio. They’re telling us if we follow these guidelines we should be relatively safe,” Spencer said. “We’ll do our part and leave the rest up to the parents.

"We’ll follow the guidelines and you can choose if you want your sons and daughters to play or not.”

The response thus far, Spencer said, has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Probably 90 percent of the parents we’ve talked to have been supportive,” Spencer said. “Ontario parents are ready to play. They want to do something.

“I have had parents tell me, ‘I don’t care if my kids play as long as you let them come to the park and watch,’ Parents just want their kids to be outside and have some form of normalcy.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.

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