TOWN OF LEE — The fields at the town park, vacant this spring and summer due to the COVID-19 situation, soon will be alive with the kicking of soccer balls for practices by a youth sports organization’s teams.
Following a lengthy review of health and safety procedures to be used, the Town Board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow local American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) teams to use the park for practices from Sept. 1-Oct. 31 but with no games. The park reopened in mid-July after being closed for over three months, but at that point there were no arrangements for organized group sports activities.
Also during the meeting, the board was told that the Town of Lee Little League organization has opted to postpone “fall ball” activities which typically have been at the park, and would wait until next spring. In addition, the board discussed reopening the Town Hall next week including offices that had been closed.
• Voting against the AYSO usage of the town park was councilman Karl Matt, who said “I’m not comfortable with it” and asked several questions about potential impacts. Town Supervisor John Urtz said his approval was subject to AYSO providing the town with documents confirming “protocols they’re going to use” in conducting practices, and town attorney David Rapke said those details along with copies of waiver forms covering all participants are needed before Sept. 1.
The practice-only sessions would involves teams of about five to 10 players each, for about one hour to one-and-a-half hours per team probably once a week, local AYSO program commissioner Jeff DeMatteis told the board. He said over 200 children have signed up, ranging from about three or four years old to 14 years old. They are divided into five age groups.
Parents of participating players would sign COVID waivers and would take temperature checks of their children before every practice, said DeMatteis, adding that children would not take part in a practice if they show symptoms over the previous 14 days. The practices would involve no throw-ins of balls, and goalies would wear gloves, he noted. Team coaches would be present.
If a participant did develop a COVID-19 infection at some point, AYSO would notify the town and the entire team involved would be “out 14 days” from practice, AYSO program registrar Brian Norris told the board. If participants are sick, they are to “stay home. Not just COVID...anything,” he commented.
Rapke observed there is “no total insulation for the town” from potential liability. The town would “definitely want” waiver forms that include the town’s name, plus protocols that identify “everything the league’s going to do” along with coaches’ sign-offs. It still would “not totally obviate the risk to the town or the AYSO league either,” he added.
Urtz at one point questioned how the town would monitor the soccer activities. But town Highway Superintendent William Baker remarked he has seen “kids there every day playing on playground equipment” at the park, and there is “no one sitting there watching them” such as monitoring by the town. For example, there were “six to eight kids there today,” he said.
Town councilman L. James “Jamo” Jones Jr., who along with councilman Shawn Finster met with AYSO representatives about three weeks ago to discuss possible park usage, said he would be “willing to do my part” and periodically check on some practices.
Matt said he would love to see soccer played. But he questioned whether the board’s approval for the park usage would mean it would have to “open it to everyone.” Rapke said if another organization met requirements through providing similar details and documents such as waivers and operating procedures, “I would think...we’d have to allow them” to proceed.
• Regarding the Town of Lee Little League organization, player registrar Peter LaMonica told the board the league had been considering seeking to hold some practice activities, but ultimately concluded it would “postpone until spring.”
The interest in “fall ball” this year was lower, LaMonica said.
• The Town Hall will be open on Tuesday next week, the board determined. Specific town clerk office hours are to be determined.
Offices such as the town clerk have been closed to the public, with payments or paperwork to be sent by mail or left in a temporary drop-box in front of the Town Hall. The town codes and zoning departments previously had resumed some office hours including for appointments. Town court is not open yet and is to come up with a plan, said Town Clerk Sharon Mortis.
The board discussed preparations for the Town Hall reopening amid health and safety considerations due to COVID-19, such as putting social distance markers on the floor and preventing usage of drinking fountains there.