Sports opportunities lost, but not at a city loss

Published 10:20 am Monday, July 6, 2020

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For the Washington Daily News

Instead of metal bats pinging and crowds cheering, the most likely sound a weekend visitor to the Susiegray McConnell Sports Complex will hear is the buzz of an airplane from the nearby airport.

Normally, the Washington Youth Baseball League would be preparing to host 20-25 Tar Heel League teams as they competed in the district tournament next weekend. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s among the tournaments that have been canceled.

“Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve averaged around five tournaments at the complex from May to September including baseball, softball and soccer,” said Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell. “We’ve had to cancel three this summer, and there were more that we knew we couldn’t schedule.”

Washington Parks and Recreation Director Kristi Roberson pointed out that the City doesn’t actually lose money when tournaments are not held because there are no up-front expenses to cover.

However, WYBL president Will Tyson said missing out on potential revenue basically means a loss.

“It took considerable time to put together bids for the Tar Heel District Tournament and the Babe Ruth girls softball state tournament,” Tyson said. “We were really excited to hear that we would host, then the Tar Heel association canceled because of the virus. Based on earnings from previous tournaments, that’s at least $20,000 that we are not going to get this year.”

The Babe Ruth softball state tournament is scheduled for mid-August, and Tyson is holding out hope that it will be played.

“They haven’t said no yet,” he said. “We are looking at 50 to 60 teams from all over the state for that one. That’s a $50-60,000 gain for us. We’ve added two new scoreboards and a shed for equipment with the money we’ve made in the past, and it allows us to not have to fund-raise during the season, and it helps keep fees low so more kids can play.”
Since tournaments are held over multiple days, most teams and fans stay in area hotels, eat at local restaurants and perhaps spend time away from the field discovering what else Washington has to offer.

“The tournaments help showcase our town to people who maybe haven’t been here before,” Russell said. “They come shop downtown, walk along the waterfront and support our local businesses. It’s a large revenue stream that we will miss, and it’s hard to recoup that revenue. It’s disappointing and unfortunate for all involved.”

Tyson, a former pitcher at Barton College in Wilson, hopes the unusual summer won’t have a lasting effect and that normal times will return soon.

“I discovered my love of the game on fields just like these, and I want our kids to have the same experience,” Tyson said. “There’s nothing better when you’re a kid to be outside playing ball with your buddies. We try to teach them how to play the game the right way and to have fun doing it. I’m glad that we can least give them a shorter season with restrictions until we get back to normal.”

The WYBL teams have been practicing for the last two weeks and an abbreviated regular season will start soon.