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Survey: Parents feel much more comfortable allowing kids to play in the fall

Parents are overwhelmingly likely to allow their children to travel and compete in sports in the fall, as opposed to this month, when their confidence in safety during the coronavirus pandemic appears to be much lower.

Those were the results of a survey by Huddle Up Group, a sports tourism consultancy based in Phoenix, Arizona. It collected nearly 2,700 responses over about two weeks, ending May 17, and the results shed a hopeful, positive light on the prospects for youth sports, according to some local organizers.

“I thought it was very valuable,” said Kevin Primerano, the Rogue Valley Timbers youth soccer club executive director and director of coaching. “I thought that the questions were very logical, and it actually gave me a little optimism by taking the temperature nationally of what families and parents are thinking.”

Huddle Up founder and CEO Jon Schmieder, who has worked with the Southern Oregon Sports Commission since its inception in 2014, said in a release that much of the youth sports information from media and national organizations has been based on opinion.

“Our team thought that the key players in getting sports tourism back on track were the parents,” said Schmieder, “so we set out to specifically ask them when they would put their kids back on the road to compete, and also when and under what circumstances they would do so.”

The survey, dubbed “Return to Play,” asked five questions centered on those premises. Key findings included:

  • 77.8% of respondents said they would be willing to allow their kids back into travel sports in September and beyond, compared to 48.5% in May.
  • 82% of parents said they would only allow their kids to participate within a three-hour drive of home today, with that number gradually decreasing to 48.5% in September (meaning as time goes, the radius of competition will get wider).
  • Parents were nearly five times more likely to allow their kids to fly for competitions in September (22.2%) than they are today (4.8%).
  • Parents anticipate that they will travel with 2.5 family members per athlete when competitions commence.
  • Nearly half of all respondents (48.7%) said today’s market challenges will not impact their sports travel budgets.

Rich Rosenthal, the director of Medford’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department, said the role of parents as a driving force is not new, and that the standard COVID-19 caveat remains in place: Circumstances change rapidly.

“We obviously know sentiment has changed just over the last month and a half,” he said, “from outright fear to something a little less than that now, and more optimism for sure. But I think it’s an assumption that there isn’t going to be another issue in the fall, and who knows? It’s a hopeful sign; some people are hopeful.”

He compared the concerns of parents to those surrounding tackle football. Some don’t want their kids playing because of safety issues.

“This is very similar,” said Rosenthal, whose department offers a flag football program. “If you’re not comfortable with an organized athletic event, I suspect those kids aren’t going to be playing.”’

Feedback Rosenthal and Primerano have received from parents suggests they and their kids are eager to get back to playing.

Under normal circumstances, Medford’s popular U.S. Cellular Community Park bustles with activity at this time of year, but it has been quiet since the middle of March.

Four baseball tournaments have been canceled, and a fifth, slated for early June, is on the chopping block, said Rosenthal.

More baseball teams use the facility than any other sport, he said.

“The feedback that we’ve received from youth baseball teams from around the valley and many from around the state and region is that they very badly wanted to play,” said Rosenthal, “but they understood the circumstances, understood that we needed to not run those things for obvious reasons. But they’re eager to get back to playing baseball.”

So many people are ready to return to playing that when it does happen, he said, there could be an issue with regulating field use.

The next event on the calendar that hasn’t been scrapped is the Mid-Summer Monster baseball tournament, scheduled for June 27-28. As of Friday, there were 31 teams registered for the under-10 to under-14 tourney.

Most of the teams are local, but some would come from as far as Portland, Bend and Chico, California, said Rosenthal.

“Whether they come or not, or whether they can come, who knows, we’ll see,” he said.

Procedural modifications would almost certainly be necessary, he said, from social distancing to disinfecting surfaces.

“If we’re in phase two, it will make it simpler to run a tournament,” said Rosenthal. “If we’re still in phase one, there could be a lot of modifications to the degree that it may not be feasible, but we’ll see.”

He noted that state guidelines currently discourage travel, and the survey indicates fewer than 50% of parents don’t want to hit the road.

Primerano acknowledged these uncertain times.

“Everybody’s going to have a different level of comfort,” he said. “Everyone’s going to have a different situation in their household, whether they have (immune-system) compromised family members or something like that that they need to look out for, so everybody’s reality is a little different. We just have to be open and be ready for that.”

The club canceled its spring recreational and competitive seasons and the long-running and massive Rogue Memorial Challenge, which was to be held this weekend. The high school club season was played, but the State Cup tourney was wiped out, as was a recruiting event in Las Vegas.

“So, yeah, it’s been weird,” said Primerano.

Tryouts for competitive U11 to U14 teams would have occurred this month, he said, and a series of summer tournaments are scheduled for late June.

“We’re waiting to find out, one, if we’ll be able to have our tryouts and teams formed by then, and two, if those tournaments are going to be able to operate,” he said. “I’m getting a sense that they’re probably not going to.”

Primerano has received plenty of inquiries from parents wondering when kids can return to the soccer fields and what that process will look like.

“I’m really optimistic that there’s a pent-up demand, and kids and families are ready to get out on the field,” he said. “I know in my circle of friends, everybody’s ready. My general sense is that more of them than not are starting to feel comfortable with getting their kids on the field and doing something in some capacity.”

Initial get-togethers might be soccer-specific drills and exercises with no contact, such as kicking or heading balls and one-on-one work.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time on conference calls and webinars trying to figure out what this is going to look like,” said Primerano.

Huddle Up plans a follow-up survey on what parents consider to be essential needs if they’re to attend tournaments.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

The Rogue Memorial Challenge soccer tournament would have been this weekend, but it, like so many events, was a casualty of COVID-19. (Mail Tribune file photo)