Out-of-state tournaments become popular choice in June
After missing out on his high school baseball season this spring at St. Charles North, Zach Kempke is glad to be back on the diamond.
Kempke, a rising senior, plays 17U travel baseball for Pro Player Canes. Like many travel baseball and softball organizations in Illinois, they have gone out of state this month to play tournaments.
Kempke did notice a few differences at their first tournament in Westfield, Ind. Instead of the postgame handshake line, players tipped their caps to opponents.
The Canes have upcoming tournaments in Kansas City, Iowa, Georgia, Wisconsin and Indiana. Kempke said every player on his team elected to continue playing despite any concerns that COVID-19 cases are rising in some of those states.
"To me I think the players are so eager to play as a result of the missed spring season," Kempke said.
Michael Johnson coaches the 18U Crush Tidal Waves softball team with players from a variety of high schools including Barrington, Dundee-Crown and Fremd.
They played their first games June 13-14 in Portage, Ind. They hope to play more locally in July with a couple tournaments scheduled in Elgin, as the state moves to Phase 4 on Friday.
Once Illinois moves to Phase 4, competitive play and tournaments will be allowed but venues can operate at 50 percent of facility capacity and 20 percent seating capacity for spectators. Group sizes up to 50 with multiple groups will be permitted during practice and competitive games.
Johnson said there was one player on his team who had a sister with an autoimmune disorder that had concerns about traveling. The team found differences while at the Indiana tournament, such as people not wearing masks at stores and being able to eat inside restaurants that were at half capacity.
At the tournament itself, teams were not allowed to come into the park until 15 minutes before the game.
Another softball organization, the Wasco Diamonds, has had a mix of reactions to resuming play.
The 9U team ended it season, deciding not to travel at all. One of their 14U teams didn't want any overnight stays.
Bill Morrow, who runs the Diamonds and coaches the 16UWM team, has other age groups with a full travel schedule. His team already has played in Kansas City and has trips scheduled to California in August and Georgia in July.
"I think every industry has families that won't and don't want to travel during this time," Morrow said. "I have heard from both sides of the spectrum and the majority of our families are stuck in the middle. Yes I want to play but do I take the chance of exposing my family?"
In Kansas City, Morrow liked the no touch rule. Each team had its own softballs to use in the field so the only time the ball was touched by the other team was when the bat hit it.
He also said the actual travel experience went well.
"The hotel was spotless," Morrow said. "I think people are nervous about staying overnight in hotels are being overcautious. Hotels are doing a great job of making sure rooms are clean. Nobody entered that room except families the whole stay. I thought it was a great process.
"Each family is different. Nobody feels the same about this. There's people that don't care and go do whatever they want and there are people who won't do anything until there's a vaccine. The spectrum is so broad. Families could have a parent who is sick, they could have another child with concerns."
While baseball and softball have a natural social distancing to their sports, basketball does not.
There haven't been as many teams traveling out of state to play, but there are a few. Taylor Charles, who played the last two seasons at Montini and will be a junior next year at Burlington Central, and her Midwest Elite teammates played their first tournament last weekend in Indiana.
There were several changes from previous tournaments. Only one family member of each player was allowed to attend. Teams had to exit between games. Seats in bleachers were marked with a blue X for social distancing.
Midwest Elite is planning to play in Des Moines, Milwaukee and Indianapolis in July.
"Midwest Elite has done an exceptional job communicating to the families what the expectations are at the tournaments," said Kevin Charles, Taylor's father.
Ethan Marlowe, a rising junior at St. Charles North, said his M14 Hoops basketball team hasn't played yet but has July tournaments scheduled in Indianapolis, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
His practices at M14 haven't included contact, and every player has their temperature taken before entering.
"Sweat, contact, breathing in people's faces. Basketball is definitely a contact sport," Marlowe said. "I think everyone is itching to play. They want to get back, get out. Our program isn't trying to take us too far. Just one-day shootouts, not trying to stay overnight. My parents are trying to be safe and all but are ready to get back and playing."