Frederick sports youth group the MD Aftershocks 16u have had to make many changes to the way the players practice, compete, and enjoy with their family due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The MD Aftershocks is a softball team split into teams of 11 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, 16 and under, and 18 and under. The MD Aftershocks is associated with the group In The Dirt Academy, which focuses on building character through teaching skills and fundamentals of baseball and softball.
In The Dirt Academy focuses on teaching their players what is expected of them beyond high school. It prepares them to compete for spots on travel teams and high school teams. In The Dirt Academy was established in 2012 and has over 100 years of combined experience in baseball at all levels.
The MD Aftershocks take this teaching and put it to use in their practice. Their practices are on Monday and Wednesdays with their tournaments on weekends. They practice on the Lewistown Elementary softball field.
The Lewistown Elementary softball field sits empty awaiting the MD Aftershocks 16u youth sports group to arrive and start kicking up the dirt. On a normal year, the team may be sitting in the dugout with their families in the bleachers, cheering on their team while they enjoy vendor made meals.
On a normal year, the bleachers would be packed with roars from as many people as the family could invite to come cheer on their daughter as she chases the ball through the air, or strikes out her opponent, or even hits a home-run that sends the crowd into a blaze.
This year is no normal year. This year, the girls not only have to battle on the field, but off the field as well. The girls have been battling with their nerves off of the field. One of the players is Regan Wolfe. Regan, who has been with the Aftershocks for 5 years, says “I’m nervous that nationals won’t happen this year, because it’s a tournament that everyone looks forward to.”
Nerves like these are something mostly faced when competing against a formidable team. However, this year the nerves are about whether the girls will even be able to play the game at all.
However, the Aftershocks’ coaches and parents have done a great deal in order to help maintain order and balance on and off the field. When asked about safety precautions, Aftershocks Coach Jeremy Mangers, who has been with In The Dirt for 6 years, said, “We have set in place pre-practice screenings for two or more symptoms of COVID-19.”
Even with these conditions set in place, the girls are not allowed in the enclosed dugout. Mangers says, “There will be no enclosed dugout use, and hand sanitizer will be on the field.” He goes on to say, “This is the standard in all our fields.”
Another rule set into place during COVID-19 is that the players have to wear mask gaiters if they are too close to other players to help ensure the safety of everyone around them.
The safety precautions don’t end there. Families are required to take the temperature of their daughters before every practice, making sure it’s safe for them to be on the field. During softball tournaments and events, the family is expected to follow this same routine.
Aftershocks coach Sara Kephart says “Family is one of the key aspects in the girl’s time while playing any sport. As a previous player, I can safely say one of the best feelings you can have is seeing your family cheering for you in the stands.”
This year, due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the girls may only invite two of their family members to watch. “It hurts to have to see the girls play with all their heart, and to not even be allowed to invite the whole family.” Kephart goes on to say, “This is a family event, and because of this virus, the family can’t even enjoy it.”
With the entertainment of any sport also comes the concessions of snacks and other foods. Due to COVID-19, the vendors are not allowed to sell anything that requires handling.
With the lack of vendors, family presence, and the standards set in place, Nationals feels like a dream to the MD Aftershocks 16u. However, Mangers says, “I am not nervous because we played Nationals last year which was 4 months into the pandemic,” and with one last look to the field, he added “I see things getting better in time.”