After being shut down due to coronavirus outbreak, youth sports to return to Danbury
DANBURY — Michael Diker is excited for kids to get back on the athletic fields again.
He’s thrilled not only because youth sports can resume, but because it is a sign the city is recovering from last month’s spike in coronavirus cases, he said.
“Playing soccer is great and we love it,” said Diker, president of the Danbury Youth Soccer Club. “That’s why we do it — for our kids to have fun. But we want to work together as a community to support the city and do everything we can to keep us all safe from the virus.”
The mayor announced Monday that Danbury’s playing fields will reopen Oct. 8 as health conditions improve in the city.
The infection rate is down to just below 5 percent, a drop from 14 percent to 15 percent during the latest outbreak, he said. Danbury had seven new cases Monday, 10 on Sunday and five on Saturday, down from last Tuesday when there were 23.
“We’re seeing a plateauing and dipping off of numbers,” Mayor Mark Boughton said. “The trend is moving in the right direction.”
The Oct. 8 date coincides with the state’s Phase 3 reopening, which will allow restaurants to serve indoors at 75 percent capacity and permit indoor events up to 150 people and outdoor events up to 100 people.
“It would seem a little paradoxical if the governor is allowing more people into restaurants and to catering halls and larger outdoor groups and we’re saying you can’t go out and play a softball game,” Boughton said.
Families and athletes have demanded the return of youth sports since the city canceled these activities six weeks ago amid a spike in coronavirus cases. Some cases had spread through youth sports, the mayor has said.
“We’re excited that youth sports will resume,” said Cheryl Radachowsky, who is on the Hat City Youth Sports board. “The kids have been eagerly awaiting getting back to the playing field, so we look forward to it.”
Youth leagues will be able to offer a shortened season for roughly five to six weeks.
“Obviously, kids need to be out there and participating, getting their exercise, being with their friends,” said Nick Kaplanis, the parks and recreation director. “It’s better than not having anything at all.”
Teams must provide a health and safety plan to the city’s health department and follow social distancing and mask requirements.
“The health department will be monitoring the activities,” Kaplanis said. “If people start to ignore what the protocols are, it’s possible we could shut everything down again. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Baseball, soccer and softball are expected to participate. But the health department will not permit tackle football because it is considered a high-risk sport for spreading the virus, Boughton said. The city’s acting health director is examining whether flag football can play, he added.
Radachowsky said she was disappointed that football was not included, but that Hat City Youth Sports hopes to offer flag football.
The Danbury Youth Athletic Organization does not plan to offer any form of football and cheerleading program in the fall, said Kaplanis, who is also the president of the organization.
Danbury Youth Baseball plans to offer a Sandlot program for kids 5 through 12 one day a week per age group for about three weeks beginning Oct. 12, the organization said in an email.
Danbury Youth Soccer Club aims to offer a training program for four to five weeks, Diker said. Travel teams should be ready to go by Oct. 8. Premier teams have been playing on fields outside of Danbury or not owned by the city, he said.
“We’ll provide an opportunity for kids to get out,” Diker said. “We have special drills that are designed with physical separation. They can still run and pass and kick a ball around and at least get outside.”
The club typically sees 500 to 750 kids in its fall and spring programs, with a couple hundred in its travel program, Diker said. Some athletes played in other towns because of the shutdown, he said.
Over the summer, athletes and families largely followed safety rules, Diker said.
“It’s important for these kids to have a place to compete and play,” he said. “In this once in a lifetime pandemic, we want to do it as safely as possible.”