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24

Jul, 2020

Pittsburgh Post Gazette Article

Young athletes not required to wear masks during play — for now, at least

 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo
 
AMANDA STURGES
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
 
 
JUL 24, 2020
 
12:00 PM

Youth sports leagues are resurfacing across Western Pennsylvania equipped with a laundry list of guidelines to protect players against COVID-19. One thing that’s not on that list? Wearing masks during competition.

According to Gov. Wolf’s return-to-play guidelines, athletes are not required to wear a face covering while exercising or competing. And as temperatures soar above 90 degrees, league organizers are hard-pressed to justify having players mask up on the field.

“We talked about [requiring face coverings], and the consensus was that we’re doing so many things beyond what we’re asked to do with the CDC guidelines,” said Randy Frankel, league director for Squirrel Hill Baseball Association. “Particularly in the summer, it’s hard to wear at-bat or on the field. But many kids choose to wear them.”

Frankel is referring to a series of safety protocols his league has instituted to return to game play, including social distancing and wearing masks in the dugout, using cubbies to keep players’ equipment separate and regularly sanitizing balls. Thanks to these strict guidelines, Squirrel Hill Baseball was able to resume competition July 10.

Greenfield Baseball Association, which paused play for two weeks after a parent tested positive for COVID-19, also requires players to wear masks in the dugout. Both leagues are utilizing a section of the bleachers to create additional space for players to wait for their at-bat.

But the on-field mask decision comes down to individual parents.

“Some parents feel safer if they have the mask on all the time, so they have it on except when they’re up to bat,” said Matthew Pohrte, president of Greenfield Baseball Association. “Since we’re not sure how running with a mask affects the kids, we thought it would be best for them not to have it on.”

Wearing a mask affects one’s oxygen intake, which can be especially harmful during intense bursts of physical activity.

“For sports with increased sprinting, it’s going to be more concerning for you [to wear a mask],” said Craig Castor, supervisor of sports medicine for Allegheny Health Network. “Sports more like volleyball where you’re not quite sprinting as much, it’s going to be more feasible.”

And the challenge doesn’t end there. John Henderson, associate athletic director of sports medicine and performance for Duquesne, says perceived exertion may also increase if an athlete exercises with a mask.

“It feels a little harder to breathe and people have reported increased feelings of how hard they’re working,” he said. “How much of that is actually physiological, we’re not certain.”

The majority of a baseball player’s time on the field is spent a good distance apart from other players. But with contact sports such as soccer, where social distancing is difficult, the path to play has been slower.

BC United, a premier soccer club in Beaver County, started practicing when the county entered the green phase June 5. Players don’t wear face coverings, but rather than team drills, the club has opted to maintain social distance between players and focus on individual technical skills.

“In the green phase, we were allowed to go contact, but we stayed away from it because everything is changing so often,” said Walter Clapton, BC United’s director of soccer. “We didn’t want to be told that youth sports were the cause of another spike in cases.”

The club hosts a maximum of 25 players per practice session, doesn’t allow spectators and requires a temperature check before players get on the field. If a player chooses to go on vacation, they must self-quarantine for two weeks before returning to the club.

“We also tell kids, ‘If you want to be in this environment, make good decisions when you’re off the field,’” Clapton said.

Given the difficulty of wearing a mask during exercise, some collegiate programs are considering face shields — for example, the Splash Shield from Schutt Sports that can attach to a football helmet to protect players from respiratory droplets. This isn’t something that has been widely considered at the youth level.

To Henderson, there’s no perfect solution.

“The face shields are easier to use while competing and are effective in capturing large droplets expired with breathing,” he said. “But masks have shown to be much more effective.”

If a team or league does decide to mandate masks during exercise, Henderson says it’s important to watch for signs of heat-related illness and give athletes more frequent water breaks.

Regardless of the additional guidelines, kids and their parents are excited to get back on the field.

“We have never received as many compliments from parents as I have this year about enabling their child to play,” Frankel said.

Amanda Sturges: [email protected] 

First Published July 24, 2020, 12:00pm

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