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Sports are finally starting to return in South Carolina after Governor Henry McMaster's announcement on Wednesday that gave the OK to resume activities.
With Riley Park reopening, baseball will resume after a long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the American Legion season has been canceled by the national committee. However, many Legion teams in South Carolina plan on playing independently.
Sumter Post 15 athletic director Bill Lyons was disappointed that the American Legion season was cancelled so early, especially with the governor opening the door for sports this summer on Wednesday.
"I'm just glad the governor is opening things up," said Lyons. "To be honest with you, I think they made these decisions way to early about canceling the American Legion season. He's opening things up now and we could've been playing by June 15 and we could've had a regular season of Legion baseball, but the powers that be canceled it, so there's nothing else we can do but play independently."
The Sumter P-15's will play under the same name this summer, but they won't be affiliated with American Legion. They will instead play in the South Carolina American League, which was started up by Florence Post 1 head coach Derick Urquhart. That league will generally consist of American Legion teams playing under the same names; they will just not be associated with American Legion.
Lyons said the P-15's plan on hitting the practice field as soon as possible. The league will get to work on establishing a schedule now that the governor has said games can start being played on June 15.
Sumter head coach Robby Coker said the plan is to hold the first practice on Tuesday. He said the plan is to hold two separate practices with nine players in each practice in order to practice social distancing.
The exact size of the league is unknown because teams are still able to register. Lyons estimates that they have 26 senior teams and just under 20 junior teams as of now and expects that number to rise now that the governor has given the OK to start playing.
"We had 26 senior teams and 17 or 18 junior teams that were scheduled to play and there's still more of them signing up to play," said Lyons. "Right now, we're not sure exactly how many teams there will be in the state, but probably 30-35 teams for seniors and maybe 20-25 juniors. A lot of teams were held back because they weren't sure what the governor was going to do."
Because the league is still in the early stages, Lyons doesn't know exactly what the season will look like. Whatever the schedule ends up being, the league will play through the end of July, before playing a week-long playoff.
"We'll probably have a couple of preseason games held at Riley Park to see how everybody looks," said Lyons. "Once we start, we'll play through the month of July. The season will end on July 31, then we'll have playoffs August 3-10, I believe. There will be no state tournament or anything like that for juniors or seniors, so we'll just play a regular season and the playoffs."
Safety measures will also be in effect to make sure that the league will not jeopardize the health of players or spectators. Guidelines include coaches wearing face coverings at all times and players not in the game are encouraged to do the same. Players, coaches and umpires must bring their own water bottles and there will be no chewing gum, spitting, licking fingers or eating and spitting seeds. There will also be no handshakes, fist bumps or high-fives and equipment is not to be shared whenever possible.
Lyons doesn't expect these guidelines to effect the season severely.
"We will follow all the CDC guidelines and the guidelines issued the other day when (McMaster) said we could go back to playing," said Lyons. "I don't think it'll effect the season. The stadium is big enough that people will still come out and you can spread out the spectators far enough apart that it won't be a problem. We'll keep the kids far enough apart in the dugout also. I don't think it will be a problem."
After losing out on most of the spring season, Lyons thinks the players are just excited for the chance to play baseball again.
"The ones I've talked to are really excited about coming back and getting to play some this summer before school starts back up in the fall, and we are too," said Lyons. "I'm happy to finally see something starting to take place."
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