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Delegate, rec sports community push back on Carroll County decision to nix some youth sports

Jay McClenahan crafted an open letter Friday to Carroll County’s commissioners and its director of recreation and parks to voice his disagreement with the decision announced Thursday prohibiting local rec councils from offering youth sports competition for tackle football, basketball, and wrestling because of concerns over COVID-19.

McClenahan, a former commissioner with Freedom Optimist Soccer who has worked with local rec sports for most of the past decade, questioned what he sees as the haste in making such a decision.

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So did Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Republican representing Maryland’s fifth legislative district, who wrote a letter of his own Friday to the commissioners and Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Degitz.

McClenahan and Shoemaker both said they have been asked repeatedly in the last day by concerned citizens about the county’s decision. Neither of them had answers.

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“I’m one of those people that really keeps quiet about my opinions about politics and COVID and all of the decisions that are made,” McClenahan said. “I’m a novice to all of that. I work in [information technology], I’m a soccer coach. What experience do I have? But ... you can’t take away one of the few remaining things that these kids need. It’s not just them playing a game. These are things that they’re going to take with them forever.”

McClenahan and Shoemaker each said it should be up to the parents of the athletes in question to make decisions on whether they should play during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly at the rec level. Shoemaker noted in his letter that the number of people who contacted him unhappy about the county’s decision was higher than the number of individuals under age 20 who have been hospitalized because of the novel coronavirus (three, according to county data).

“Children are already going to have a difficult time acclimating to their new educational environment following the unfortunate decision of the Board of Education regarding virtual ‘learning,‘ but to strip them of their sports seems like piling on,” Shoemaker wrote. “This is especially egregious given that many have already begun preseasons and practices. ...

“Since when did government become responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of children?”

County commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting he asked for the health department, and the rec and parks department, to come back next week with whatever new information they might have.

“After hearing the briefing [Thursday], I knew that there would be challenges. ... My colleagues agreed to that,” Wantz said. “They made these decisions based on the guidance that they had. And we’ll see then. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Wantz said he didn’t understand why Shoemaker would question their moves to protect Carroll countians.

“Public safety and the safety of our citizens is No. 1, and most every elected official you talk to will say that that is the No. 1 priority,” he said. “So I just have a complete lack of understanding of a statement like that, regardless of the age of our citizens.”

Degitz said at the meeting that “it’s not a perfect system,” and things could be adjusted in the future.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said it was a tough decision to make, and he understands the move affects a lot of people. Frazier said he didn’t feel right about kids being allowed to attend sports practices but not in-person learning at schools.

“In the end, I think we have to err on the side of safety. I do,” Frazier said. “I know it’s different, and it’s outside and therefore it’s better that way. But I’m still uneasy about it. ... No matter what decision you make, someone’s going to second-guess you.”

Degitz said during Thursday’s meeting that competing in these sports has been identified as high risk for spreading the novel coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Later, Degitz added the decision does not affect private travel teams because the rec department doesn’t have authority over them.

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Carroll’s rec sports community didn’t take long to respond.

Hampstead Ravens Youth Football and Cheerleading posted a message Friday afternoon on its Facebook page that started with the sentence, “Football families deserve better” and asked for supporters of the organization to contact county officials regarding the ruling.

County officials talked Thursday about giving kids a safe sports environment versus getting out of the pandemic as quickly as possible.

“One season for a particular sport may ultimately look rather small in comparison to what we’re going through as a county and a country,” Degitz said.

McClenahan said he received more than 100 inquiries on the matter between Thursday evening, when the announcement became public, and Friday afternoon.

Longtime rec sports contributor Jerry Georgiana, a Carroll County Sports Hall of Famer, said he has also been flagged by Westminster Girls Basketball youth program families wondering about their league’s fate. Georgiana, who is getting set for his 30th year leading the organization, said he is going to submit a plan to delay the season and start later than usual, maybe even by the spring, if only to give the WGB some sort of season.

Georgiana said he’s not sure rec sports athletes missing one season is as minor as Degitz described.

“I think that it’s going to go against their health,” Georgiana said. “They’re not getting any exercise. It seems to me, the more you exercise the safer you are because you’re healthier. ...

“So where are we going with this? Because these kids, since March 13th, have been doing nothing.”

Shoemaker’s letter seemed to agree with that sentiment.

“We cannot take the world away from these kids and expect them to function in a healthy manner. They will suffer and it will be at the hands of those who made the decision to continue taking away their normalcy,” Shoemaker wrote, closing his letter by asking that the decision be reconsidered.

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