It’s time once again to play ball.
An Alpine School District spokesperson confirmed on Friday that the district has been working with several different organizations and individuals to help provide competitions for baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse for the end of May and the beginning of June.
Baseball seems to be the most fully formed sport. Two brackets — divided into Class 5A and Class 6A — are scheduled for May 28-30 and June 1-6. According to Salem Hills Parks and Recreation Director Matt Marziale, the idea began with Danny Higginson (who has a son playing baseball at Salem Hills), Mark Comer (who has a son playing baseball at Lone Peak) and Jay Beck, who is connected to the baseball program at Lone Peak.
“They really started the wheels moving,” Marziale said. “Things were looking pretty bleak when the seasons were being canceled. They decided they wanted to look into doing something once the majority of the state moved into the yellow stage for COVID-19.”
Higginson, Comer and Beck reached out to Marziale and simply said, “Can you help us?”
Marziale, a long-time area umpire who is also involved with Utah’s Premier Game baseball travel league, was glad to assist.
“The biggest challenge was to be able to locate usable fields,” Marziale said. “This thing wouldn’t be possible at all without the high school baseball fields and the cooperation of the school districts.”
At this point, plans are still in motion but games will be played at Salem Hills, Maple Mountain, Timpanogos, American Fork, Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove. The goal is to play the finals at Utah Valley University’s UCCU Ballpark.
Marziale said each team is being charged an entry fee of $800 to pay for facilities rentals, insurance and umpires.
“Most of the teams have a parent or a booster club to pay the entry fee,” Marziale said. “We’re not making money on this. We’re going after a couple of sponsors to see if that can help pay for everything. Right now $450 goes right into paying the umpires and it’s $105 per team for insurance. Then there is field rental and we are still trying to get awards, announcers and scorekeepers.”
Marziale said the biggest regret is that more teams can’t participate in the event. At this point there is an eight-team Class 6A bracket and 11 teams in the 5A bracket.
“There just isn’t enough time or enough fields,” he said. “One of the biggest conversations we had about the tournament was these kids have already been told ‘no’ when their seasons ended. We aren’t here to tell kids ‘no’ again, but we just can’t service every team that wants to play. We’re putting this together the best we can.”
Marziale described the reaction from coaches and players as very positive.
“The word I would use is ‘elation,’” he said. “They had the chair pulled out from under them. There is definitely an excitement. The kids are going out, getting their arms in shape and taking batting practice. They get a chance to finish what they started as a team this spring.”
Alpine School District is allowing these organizations to rent facilities for the tournaments and will also let the athletes wear their school uniforms.
District spokesperson Kimberly Bird said the agreement with the tournament includes observing all COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines at their facilities including social distancing and limits on number of spectators.
“The reaction from the coaches has been pure joy and celebration,” Bird said. “One of our coaches even had tears. That’s how excited people are to just be getting out there.”
Scott Haney, baseball coach at Salem Hills, said the tournament is a great opportunity.
“I’m using this tournament as kind of a last chance for my seniors,” he said. “Legion ball is going to start June 1 and that’s for next year’s team. This is going to be really fun.”
The Utah High School Activities Association postponed the spring sports season in mid-March due to the coronavirus and canceled the season altogether on May 5.
Marziale said the group is working on making the tournament available for live streaming online. More information about scheduling once it is finalized can be found on the Utah’s Premier Baseball Game site at http://upgbaseball.com.