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Decision to close fields until May 31 is 'devastating' for local athletes

Baseball, slo-pitch, soccer, lacrosse and other summer sports in peril; 'The idea of a summer without lacrosse is pretty heartbreaking,' says league official

It’s a disappointing time for local athletes who were gearing up for spring and summer sports. 

The City of Orillia notified each local sports organization on Monday that all indoor and outdoor recreational facilities are closed until May 31.

Orillia men’s, women’s and co-ed slo-pitch teams are typically practising in local school yards at this time of year, preparing for their return to local diamonds. The season was scheduled to start in the first week of May.

“I don’t want to say the season may be done, but we are going to wait until the middle of May to make a decision,” said league president Mike Borrelli.

Borrelli says the league executives will take a closer look at determining the fate of the slo-pitch season on May 15.

“We will have a pretty good idea by then if we are going to have a league this year,” Borrelli explained, noting July 1 is the latest that slo-pitch executives say the season could start.

Borrelli annually organizes five tournaments in town every year. Already, the May 9 Early Bird Tournament has been cancelled. Borrelli fears that even if his tournaments get off the ground, teams from out of town won’t be able to afford to participate.

“Usually I get 80-90 teams and I tend to think that it costs $300-400 per person that comes to Orillia,” said Borrelli. “I think that money will be more useful for people’s grocery lists and providing for their families than coming to a ball tournament right now.”

The season has also been delayed for Orillia Legion Minor Baseball (OLMB). President Wes Winkel says the earliest house league baseball players could take the field is June 13.

“We are still asking parents to please register for this season even though they are not to pay. We need to make sure we get the kids registered and insured,” Winkel said.

For the rep and select players, the earliest they could see the diamond is July 1, said Winkel.

“Baseball Ontario would still be trying to get a shortened season in at that point, although that is becoming increasingly dangerous as these delays keep coming in,” Winkel said.  

Baseball Ontario is prepared to make scheduling adjustments until July 15. OLMB is prepared to keep hope alive for house league players until the beginning of July before pulling the plug.

“The key right now is to try and make sure the kids are staying active and are working out at home. The danger is the kids spending too much screen time,” Winkel said.

“Sports kids are very active kids, very busy and out in our community all the time," said Winkel. "For that to turn off this fast and this harshly is devastating.”

Like baseball, Orillia’s lacrosse communities are also feeling the pain.

The Orillia Minor Lacrosse Association (OMLA) boys' spring field lacrosse program was scheduled to begin this weekend and run until the May long weekend. Due to the pandemic, the entire season has been cancelled.

“It’s is pretty devastating to everyone who loves field lacrosse,” said OMLA president Nicole Gardy

For rep box lacrosse players, normally they would be in their final week of try outs with house league players gearing up to start their season next week. However, with arenas closed, those players are forced to wait for the foreseeable future.

The annual Boyd Balkwill Memorial Tournament, scheduled for June 11-14, is also in jeopardy of being cancelled.

“We’re trying to be patient, but it’s definitely frustrating,” Gardy said.

“We are encouraging our players to keep their sticks in their hands and work on their skills at home as much as they can.”

Gardy and the OMLA community are still hopeful they will be able to salvage a shortened season of some sort.

“Lacrosse is more than just a game to us and the idea of a summer without lacrosse is pretty heartbreaking,” Gardy said.

It’s much the same for the Orillia Lady Kings' field lacrosse program. Their house league programs run from May through June; that program has been cancelled this year.

As for the rep programs which typically start in May and run through July, Lady Kings president Mardi McLaughlin is still trying to find a way to make a season happen, but the likelihood is bleak.

“I don’t want to cancel it yet. I’m hoping we can have a shorter season if we can get the fields at the end of May, beginning of June,” McLaughlin said.

One of the main factors limiting the likelihood of their season being played is the City of Toronto's decision to ban social gatherings for entertainment and sports until the end of June.

“A lot of our games are in the city. We only have one hosting weekend in Orillia, so that puts a bit of a squash on things too,” McLaughlin explained.

“It’s a sad season for the girls, especially the girls who were going to play their last year in Orillia before they go away to school or were hoping to earn a scholarship to play in the States," she said.

McLaughlin added that coaches are reaching out to the players to set up group chats where they can still teach skills that can be worked on from home during the hiatus from the fields.


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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