Mike Preston: Ready or not, lacrosse will change this summer because of COVID-19 virus

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It’s the time of year when lacrosse camps and tournaments heat up, but parents should give them a chilly reception.

Because of the COVID-19 virus it’s not worth allowing your child to participate.

The disease is better managed than it was two months ago, yet at the same time, it’s worse in many states. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have yet to go back to work, so why should parents send out their 12-year-old kid?

Even the sports governing body, US Lacrosse, has canceled all of its major events at its headquarters in Sparks, Maryland, until August.

That’s a major statement in itself.

But the spring and summer months are the time for playing recreation, high school, college and pro lacrosse as well as participating in the seemingly endless amounts of club and high school tournaments.

Lacrosse has become so big and prosperous during this time of year that some event and club organizers work in a full-time capacity. It’s big dollars, and in some cases, a big racket.

Parents and athletes also like to believe that the chances of obtaining a college scholarship increase because scouts flock to the tournaments.

Then there are the boredom factors. A lot of these players have been out of school for more than two months. They want to get outside and go to the beach. They want to see their friends.

They want to play lacrosse.

That could be a big mistake, possibly deadly.

“We are hoping people are making the best decisions for the athletes,” said Ann Kitt Carpenetti, vice president of operations at US Lacrosse. “We’re concerned about what message is coming out so we can get back to normal. But the other message is about being careful because we haven’t figured out this virus yet, how to stop the transmission and track it in a wide-spread manor.”

In some ways US Lacrosse is what the National Football League Players Association is to the NFL. Some organization has to watch out for the players.

According to Carpenetti, 80 professionals from infectious disease, primary care, orthopedics, athletic training and physical therapy formed four boards to come up with a set of return-to-play guidelines and recommendations that consist of five stages.

They started meeting, texting and calling each other in mid-March.

They’ve researched studies from ones that came out of Wuhan, China, where the virus reportedly started, to consultations with numerous other organizations. They’ve even looked at the possibility of the disease being transmitted through air conditioning in an indoor facility.

“We wanted to keep up to speed and make this safe for everybody, but this is a little scary,” Carpenetti said.

“The disease has slowed a little,” said Dr. Richard Hinton, who is an executive board member of US Lacrosse’s Sports Science and Safety committee. “The social distancing, not being indoor in large crowds, has slowed the burden of the disease, at least for the summer. It has made it easier for youth sports to be more aggressive in coming back.”

“It’s this give and take of public health and American culture, about how aggressive people will be and their risk of acceptance,” Hinton said.

The guidelines are thorough. There are recommendations on individual drills and how to practice with small to large amounts of players. There are suggestions on how to limit contact in practices while also keeping all players physically active and mentally engaged.

Certain aspects of the game such as faceoffs and draws have to be changed possibly going to a coin flip. Some things are prohibited like high-fives, the traditional end of the game handshakes, water stations for players, big team huddles and tailgating.

No tailgating in lacrosse. That’s almost un-American.

“They can control what happens at the field to some extent,” Carpenetti said. “But when you have to put people in hotels, with people traveling from out of the region, that brings up a host of other variables and how to mitigate those risks.”

Hinton’s concern is more than just about COVID-19. A lot of these players have been sedentary for two to three months. An athlete can run, lift weights and have other training regimes but it’s impossible to get into game shape unless you play on the field.

This could be a problem.

“The concern is they need at least six weeks to go from where they have been to competitive play,” Hinton said. “Working out with your parent or in a home gym is a different physical reality than being out on the field interacting with other people. A lot of these players just started working out the first week of June so playing a tournament in July makes a little sense to me.”

Hinton offers a simple suggestion when picking a club team for the summer. Parents should ask the organizer what is their COVID plan and talk about social distancing, sharing space and moving kids in and out of risky environments. Parents need to know about what happens when someone tests positive and contact tracing as well as whether participants are going to be screened at the beginning of games.

He said a parent should ask what window players are going to be given as far as conditioning to go back to multiday, multigame play because the minimum should be six weeks.

It’s all quite a lot to ask from these club and event organizers, who haven’t experience anything like this before. Like football, lacrosse is a contact sport. While playing in intense heat during the summer, there is going to be a lot of sweating and touching going on.

Some people and players will take the risk.

I’d just keep my kids off the field this summer.


(Mike Preston is a sports columnist at The Baltimore Sun.)


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