Twinsburg youth sports leagues coping with COVID-19

Local leagues open communications to help weather the pandemic

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
The Twinsburg Youth Football Tigers face off against Nordonia during a game last season. TYF and other area youth sports organizations are dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s hard enough for a professional sports league to deal with the ups and downs of a global pandemic.

Imagine how hard it is for a small, community-based sports league to deal with such disruption.

For the last few months, that’s exactly what the Twinsburg youth sports community has dealt with. The loss of kids participating, sponsorships and, for some, the elimination of their spring season, has forced many to get creative.

According to Twinsburg Parks and Recreation director Derek Schroeder, one good thing has come out of the pandemic: The various Twinsburg youth sports leagues have started communicating with each other, using Zoom meetings and other methods, to figure out how best to make it through.

Schroeder notes that while the city of Twinsburg does not directly support any youth sports leagues, he works closely with most leagues in terms of getting fields ready, along with Twinsburg City Schools.

“We make sure their facilities are good to go,” Schroeder said. “I think they’re sticking to the guidelines that the government has set forth. They’re abiding by the social distancing rules.

“I think it’s important to get some version of youth sports up and going. Baseball is starting, so there are games and practices. Soccer is starting any day now. I think everything has taken a hit, from restaurants to schools.”

One of the leaders of the collaboration and communication efforts has been Twinsburg Youth Football treasurer John Boustani.

“There’s a lot of challenges. The first challenge is the uncertainty. We’ve been waiting on other entities,” Boustani said. “We’re waiting for OHSAA. We’re having a hard time preparing for the guidelines because we don’t know what they are yet.”

TYF president Beth Egan notes getting together with local leagues monthly via Zoom has been a positive.

“We wanted everyone to know what our league is about to do,” Egan said. “Having this open line of communications has been very helpful. We all know the faces to the people we’re dealing with.”

Egan and Boustani note registration with TYF is down this season, as is the case for just about all Twinsburg youth sports leagues.

“We’re struggling with registration. We’re working as hard as we can,” Boustani said. “We’re trying to get the program up and running. If for whatever reason we don’t play, we plan on refunding all the registration fees. We have a rainy-day fund if we don’t play.”

TYF had about 130 kids in the program last year.

Both Boustani and Egan worry about the economic impact the pandemic has had on families.

“The demographics for football tend to bring in our most economically challenged families in town,” Boustani said. “Many of our families have been hit hard by this.”

“I always think of fundraising,” Egan said. “It’s hard to go out and ask for funds from families when they are struggling.”

Boustani notes another challenge has been acquiring and retaining sponsorships from local businesses, who also have had to deal with the pandemic.

“I’ll give the example of Zoom [Express] Carwash in town,” Boustani said. “They had plans for a lot of sponsorships with us, but they were also shut down for two months. Thankfully, they’re still going to work with us.”

Despite the challenges, Boustani notes TYF is “in good financial shape,” though he worries about other organizations, particularly those who were unable to play in the spring.

Boustani also has worked with Twinsburg Baseball League over the years and noted he’s afraid TBL “has lost a money of this year.”

TBL president Rich Swerbinsky acknowledged his league will take a financial hit but should be able to weather the pandemic.

“The majority of our costs in regard to running a season are incurred in the winter,” Swerbinsky said. “So, all that was committed before we got hit. We’re definitely going to operate this year at a loss. Our reserve fund, we’re going to lean on that this year.”

“Our spring season was supposed to start at the end of the March,” he added. “We postponed that. We ended up putting together the league that started a week ago.”

Swerbinsky noted TBL had about 550 players in its recreation league in 2019. So far this year, rec league numbers are about 430.

“All in all, we’ve had about a 20 percent drop,” Swerbinksy said. “A little more than a quarter of parents of kids asked for refunds.”

Swerbinsky notes the program is getting a boost from players outside Twinsburg joining up due to TBL’s lower fees.

“We’ve seen the rec baseball program in neighboring communities to Twinsburg fold up,” Swerbinsky said. “We’ve seen the number of non-Twinsburg kids has gone up and up in recent years.”

Twinsburg’s two primary youth soccer leagues have taken slightly different paths during the pandemic.

Twinsburg AYSO doesn’t play a spring season, but regional commissioner Brett Harney notes his organization is also dealing with lower numbers.

“Typically, in our fall session, we have about 800 kids in the program,” Harney said. “We’re about 30 percent behind. Our registration is going to continue a couple weeks longer.”

In part because of TBL’s late start, Harney notes AYSO is going to start its fall season later instead of Aug. 1. He notes AYSO should be fine in financial terms for the moment.

“There’s one thing that’s different with youth soccer is we’re not buying a whole lot of new equipment,” Harney said. “I’m not concerned about our finances for fall. I think we really have to the rethink our strategy for indoor season when it comes. For outdoor, our kids who register will get to play.”

Meanwhile, Twinsburg AC soccer did lose its spring season due to the pandemic, but Nate Searles, AC’s boys vice president, notes the program is still in good shape.

“We made a pretty quick decision to cancel our spring season very early in the process,” Searles said. “We refunded our parents a majority of their registration fees. There was a lot of uncertainty this spring, which is why for the first time we had no May tryouts for our travel teams.

“When we gave our refunds in the spring, we looked at the numbers. Our coaches did not get paid in the spring season. We gave about 75 percent of what the spring would cost back. We feel financially we’re going to be OK. We’ve been really careful with our money. We always wanted to be very cautious.”

Moving forward, Searles noted AC soccer hopes to open practices Aug. 1 with “relatively close” to its usual number of players. He’s happy to see the communication lines open between area sports leagues.

“I think a lot of our community’s organizations are working together,” Searles said. “We’re all in the same boat. We’re going to be much more flexible this year. We’re going to do our tryouts in our practices after we take the field. These kids have had a lot of things taken away from them.”

Meanwhile, the Twinsburg youth leagues that are out of season are looking to take their cues from their in-season compatriots.

Robert Tonelli, president of the Twinsburg Youth Basketball League, notes his league is in wait-and-see mode.

“From the perspective of the Twinsburg Youth Basketball league, we do not have enough information to share anything definitive at this time,” Tonelli said. “Our hope is that the basketball season will play out as normal with proper safety protocols in place, but the health and well-being of the boys and girls that participate as well as their families is of the utmost importance to us, so we will continue to monitor the developments and determine the best and safest course forward.”

Alicia Stuczynski, president of the Twinsburg Youth Wrestling Club, said she also is keeping an eye on things until wrestling returns in the winter.

“We are fortunate this year in that we’re being very communicative with the other leagues,” Stuczynski said. “We haven’t started registration this year. I fully expect the numbers to be down, knowing how close everybody works.

“We just want to be sure we’re prepared. We have the privilege of being able to sit on the outside and try to see what the other leagues are doing at the moment.”

Stuczynski also notes wrestling could have challenges when it returns, given the close-contact nature of the sport.

“We are closer than any other sport,” Stuczynski said. “There’s some things we can do, but our kids are going to end up getting close to each other. It’s a Catch-22.”

Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, or @MLeonard_GAN on Twitter.