Recreation Department: We need to reinvent ourselves

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 5:15pm
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With traditional fall sports such as basketball and volleyball sidelined due to health and safety concerns, the members of the Recreation Board spent their meeting this week discussing ideas on how to create some kind of sports programming for Block Island kids. Other activities, such as ski trips and participation in a mainland soccer league, and indoor gym games such as pickleball, are also on hold.

“We’re going to have to reinvent ourselves if we aren’t going to have full recreation programs,” said Recreation Director Dave Sniffen.

The board members got creative, suggesting outdoor bike rides, badminton, field trips, bird walks and other non-traditional activities. But before any of these ideas could be formalized, Sniffen said he would follow what the Block Island School will be doing in terms of distancing and facemask-wearing, and to see what guidelines the state will be issuing on how to play such sports as soccer, which has been allowed to move forward this fall.

The board also made the decision to cancel the half marathon, which also takes place in the fall. “We haven’t shut it down, but I don’t know how we can do it safely,” said Sniffen. “For the amount of revenue it generates, I don’t know if it’s worth the risk.” Sniffen also said holding the marathon would send the wrong message as other town-wide events have been cancelled.

“My vote would be not to have it,” said member Gail Heinz, who was chairing the meeting.

Sniffen also said runners coming in from out of state would have to document if they’d been quarantining properly.

“So that’s the question. Can we do it safely,” Sniffen asked. The members agreed that the event should be cancelled. Sniffen said that participants would have to be contacted so their fees could be returned.

With the annual participation in the Narragansett soccer league cancelled, Sniffen threw out some ideas as to how a soccer camp could be created for younger athletes here on the island.

“I’d like to have a season,” said Sniffen. He suggested that perhaps the students in each grade would play each other to avoid combining grades. “But it’s really going to depend on what the state comes up with on how we proceed.”

“I think the kids would benefit from having an outdoor sport,” said Heinz. “They played soccer all summer, it was mostly adults, but there was no spread of Covid.”

Member Colleen Ernst said that if the proper protocols were in place then games could be scheduled.

“Would you let your kids do it?” Sniffen asked.

“We’d probably have to talk about it,” said Ernst.

There were also two unknowns: whether anybody would sign up and if a coaching staff could be put together.

“I think it’s a good idea if you get people to sign up for it. That might be the first step — and get the coaches. If you don’t have the help it would be hard,” said member Shannon Morgan.

“A lot of parents have said they want a program,” said Sniffen. “If everybody does the right thing, it can be done safely.”

The playground at Ball O’Brien Park is also going to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

It has been closed all summer, but Sniffen said that did not stop people from using it. Earlier this year Sniffen had roped the area off, “but the ropes were destroyed and thrown in the bushes.”

“What is the science on contact transfer of the virus?” asked Heinz.

“It’s not about the contact, it’s grouping,” said Sniffen, noting that it was difficult to keep younger kids socially distanced, and there was also the possibility that island kids and off-island kids could gather there. He said the Centers for Disease Control require that all high-touch areas be frequently cleaned, and Sniffen said he did not know how that could be properly done. He said the school was not opening its playground and that Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said opening the playground should be postponed.

The group agreed that the playground would stay closed until spring.