Ball team practices allowed

THE BALL DIAMOND where local Teener Baseball teams play at Baughman-Belatti Park in east Madison is quiet on Tuesday morning, but local athletic teams are allowed to start holding practices this week if members follow social-distancing rules. Madison officials are currently allowing practices, but not competition play among athletic teams.

Madison's sports associations that organize ball teams -- ranging from tee-ball to American Legion baseball -- were allowed to start practice sessions on Tuesday after the city commissioners approved safety guidelines for team gatherings.

Previously, the Madison City Commission had specified the closure of city parks to large gatherings and organized sports teams due to safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. City officials wanted to slow the spread of the virus.

The city commissioners on Monday approved a new set of rules for holding team practices.

The Madison Parks and Recreation Board met in a special meeting on April 30 to consider rules that would allow the city's sports complexes to open for practice sessions in early May. With the commissioners' approval, the practices would start for travel teams on May 5, and city leagues would start practice on May 18.

The board's guidelines specified no ball games would take place until June 1 at any city sports complexes.

In addition, the board's plan said: "If a large number (of) COVID-19 cases is reported in the area, the Park Board and City Commission can shut down the practices or games until conditions become safe again."

Mike McGillivray, parks supervisor, presented the plans to the city commissioners on Monday. McGillivray had also told the parks board and commissioners that he would not open the parks' restrooms or turn on the parks' drinking fountains until sometime in the future.

McGillivray also provided the commissioners with a list of practice session rules.

The first rule specified that only practice sessions were allowed on Madison-owned ball diamonds until June 1. No games or scrimmages are permitted.

The other rules that the board recommended were:

-- If a player or coach has a weakened immune system (such as diabetes or breathing complications), they are encouraged to stay home and not participate in practices.

-- Coaches, parents and association officials are responsible for overseeing players' health, and if anyone feels ill they should isolate themselves.

-- Only one team is allowed per ball diamond during practices.

-- All practices are scheduled through the sports associations.

-- Practices are limited to one hour.

-- Practice attendance limited to players and coaches, no parents or spectators.

-- Everyone needs to practice social-distancing and remain 6 feet apart.

-- Every player's equipment bag should stay 6 feet from others' with the bags placed along the sidelines.

-- No team water coolers are allowed.

-- Each player needs to use a personal, clearly-identified water bottle.

-- Teams will not use the dugouts.

-- After practices, teams need to clear all water bottles and other trash from the practice field.

Commissioner Bob Thill asked why Madison should close its practice sessions if COVID-19 cases occurred in an outlying town such as Nunda. McGillivray replied that boys and girls from communities such as Nunda and Ramona often participated on Madison sports teams -- meaning the virus could arrive in Madison with them. McGillivray also told the commissioners that the practice guidelines were in place for all baseball, softball, soccer and other sports programs.

Commissioner Kelly Johnson made a motion to approve the parks board's practice guidelines, calling the effort "an incremental move."

Commissioner Mike Waldner asked McGillivray how the teams would clean any shared equipment, such as batting helmets and baseball bats. McGillivray said the sports associations and teams were responsible for disinfecting shared equipment and would need to follow the rules to continue using the ball diamonds. Waldner advised McGillivray to monitor the sports teams.

The minutes from the special parks board meeting indicated that several representatives from the sports associations were in attendance and appeared to support the practice session guidelines.

The parks board had unanimously passed its recommendations.

Waldner recommended that the teams organize a system to contact families if a local COVID-19 outbreak does occur. He asked that the parks board provide a plan for the sports associations and teams to contact families if a virus case is detected. Waldner reminded city officials that they had a responsibility for providing public safety.

The city parks and rec board is expected to review plans for summer athletic tournaments during its May 12 meeting.