The Future of Youth Sports In Holyoke


Samantha Antil, Digital Editor

The coronavirus has devastated families, local businesses, and entire ways of life. Here at Holyoke High we can observe a new system of learning put in place to combat the risk of illness, lending itself to the protection of both students and faculty. While certain aspects of our lives are beginning to resume, increasing case numbers threaten to keep the city and its inhabitants at a stand still. Just recently, the fall sports season for Holyoke High was cut short as the city fell into the red zone, indicating a higher level of COVID cases within the community, leaving many individuals wondering what the future of sports at the high school might look like. The effects of the virus on sports doesn’t end there.


The Holyoke Youth Soccer League has been doing what it can to provide kids across the city with the opportunity to get out on the field and make the best of the situation. Recently, I had the privilege to speak with the president of the HYSL Board to hear their thoughts on the matter.


“Currently the league has concluded the 2020 Fall Season,” said the Board president. “An increase in Covid cases in our region forced the city of Holyoke to shut down sports at all levels which included Holyoke Youth Soccer.”

Concerning the changes made this year to accommodate the COVID situation, the Board president stated, “[The Board] worked closely with the Parks and Rec Department of Holyoke to ensure we would be able to provide a safe environment for the youth in our program. Several changes needed to be made so that our league would be in compliance with state regulations. There were additional changes that were needed before we received permission from Parks and Rec to proceed with the season.” 


They went on to explain that the size of the teams had been reduced, the use of the fields had been planned out to avoid multiple teams practicing in close proximity and that various sanitation measures had been enacted to create a safer season. “[The Board] provided sanitizers along with the equipment. This allowed the team coaches to follow the requirement of sanitizing balls, cones and other equipment used prior to, and after, every practice/game.”


The president of the Board also elaborated on the challenges this season posed and what families might expect to see in the future. “A decrease in registrations made it difficult to anticipate the total number of teams we would have in each division. In addition, the Head of the Department of Health in Holyoke along with the Parks and Recreation department needed to discuss our ability to hold a safe season before they approved our being able to start.


“In the end, we were unable to get past the practice portion. Permission to start our season was provided later than expected and so we began practices 3 weeks into September. This caused a delay in the rest of the plan as well.”


Understandably, many families have been apprehensive about allowing their children to participate in sports. The Board president responded to this fear by saying, “Anyone who is hesitant about participating in, or having their children participate, in sports has a valid reason for their concerns. However, I hope they are at least reviewing the steps that different sports leagues are taking to ensure a safe environment. Most people working on league boards are volunteers who really are just in it to make sure the kids get to participate in a fun and safe game.”


“Sports provide an environment where children can learn skills they will use throughout their lives. Skills such as teamwork, leadership and the importance of sportsmanship. These are things that can translate into other aspects of their lives, regardless of whether they continue in their sport once they leave the youth level.”


The president went on to say that they encourage individuals to reach out to the Board with any questions, and to review the steps that the league is taking to maintain a safe environment, even if families ultimately decide against registering. 


When asked about anticipated changes to sports in general, the Board president explained that they don’t foresee a large number of changes, and that they hope the way sports are played will remain the same. “Sports, in general, carry an inherent risk. Whether it be a health risk or risk of injury, most players proceed with their chosen sport fully aware of the risks. Leagues can try to minimize the exposure but like anything else, the individual players and teams just need to take steps to limit the potential for harm.”


The Board president wrapped up their thoughts with a special thanks to those involved in making youth sports a reality. “I’d like to extend a thank you to all the volunteers who work to put together youth sports (board members, coaches, parents, etc.). There is a lot of work done behind the scenes and it’s great to see communities come together to make sure the youth in the area are provided options for expending their energy in a positive way.”