ST. GEORGE — The USA Preps Summer Nationals softball tournament is coming to St. George starting Wednesday and will be played at three softball complexes in St. George as well as one in Santa Clara. The tournament is expected to bring 144 teams and more than 2,000 out-of-state players, coaches and parents to St. George, as well as 50 college coaches.
The five-day event, from July 15 to July 19 will welcome in teams from across the western half of the United States. Some of the teams listed on the USA Preps website will be coming from Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada to name some. All of those states are considered COVID-19 hotspots according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Utah has provided a guidance template that each group needs to follow and the organizers have to carry this template on them at all times. Before the city of St. George will confirm a reservation, the organizers need to have the template completely filled out and signed.
“The state has their guidelines and in there it’s pretty clear that the tournaments can be held, events can be held, but they should follow the certain protocol,” Leisure Services Director for the City of St.George Shane McAffee said. “We’ve required the groups wanting to reserve our fields to give us a plan on how they’re going to meet those protocols.”
Next came the question of enforcement of the guidelines given from the state and the local health department. McAffee said it would be a lose-lose situation for their staff to enforce somebody else’s rules at someone’s event. He said their staff will be there to support, clean restrooms, empty trash cans and do what they can but the enforcement of the rules is up to the organizer.
If the staff is noticing that the guidelines are not being followed, they will approach the organizers and alert them but it is on the organizers to enforce those guidelines. They may or may not listen to the city’s staff.
McAffee said that a possible shutdown of the tournament would be an extreme reaction and the city would take steps to make sure the organizers are enforcing the guidelines before making any decisions. If the meeting does not help, the city would then consult the health department and others to make a determination on what is best.
“The guidelines come from the state, so we support them and recommend them and the burden does fall on the organizers,” Southwest Utah Public Health Department spokesman David Heaton said. “We trust our businesses and event planners to do the right thing and follow the guidelines. The burden really does fall on the organizers and then whoever allows or supervises that event.”
Heaton stressed that if the guidelines are followed and people are keeping social distance, there is not much of a concern, bringing up the concern surrounding people from out of state visiting the area for holidays and other events.
“We’ve also noticed there has been some concern locally about the different holiday weekends and lots of people coming in from out of state to enjoy Southwestern Utah, but so far there hasn’t been any indication of any outbreaks or disease spread from outsiders coming in,” Heaton said. “If it’s done right, it’s not that big of a concern. Nothing is risk-free, we also still advise high-risk people to avoid any large gatherings.”
Heaton said they would hope that the organizer would do their part.
“If you’re going to put on a big event, do it right,” Heaton said.
The USA Preps website has a list of the guidelines to follow while at the event and planning for the event. These guidelines call for no more than five spectators per team at every game, while others mention no spitting or sunflower seeds, extended dugouts into the bleachers so players not on the field will socially distance and call for the teams to leave the facility immediately following their games.
The event is asking teams to live stream their games so that parents can watch from home as well.
As for the size of the tournament, if the numbers on the USA Preps website are correct, each team will have roughly 12 players with at least two coaches. This would mean that over 2,000 people will be in Southern Utah and that is just counting the players and coaches. Add in the parents who may be traveling to Southern Utah with their children and you have a pretty large number of people.
One parent who reached out to St. George News expressed his concerns about the tournament. He is worried about his daughter’s health as well as his family’s but he feels pressured to send his daughter to the tournament in order for her to keep her spot on her softball team.
“What they’ve done is come up with this scheme to take teams from infected areas and drive all the way to Utah so they can play,” the parent said. “It’s a dumb thing to do because whoever is carrying the infection is still carrying it. There’s a reason why those rules are in place in other states. Now, these people are trying to have social events out there (Southern Utah) as well, which is an even dumber thing to do to go to restaurants and infect all the people out there.”
McAffee mentioned that a conservative estimate on how much money the tournament would be bringing to the local area is $3 million. This would include hotels, businesses, restaurants and more.
“We’ve had tournaments that big before on a fairly regular basis, two or three times a year. However, this will be the biggest one since the coronavirus and the COVID-19 restrictions,” McAffee said.
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