The coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on small businesses across the nation, and that includes the many youth sports organizations.

According to WinterGreen Research, youth sports is estimated to be a $19 billion industry. In 2018, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported that 36 million youth and teenage athletes played organized or unstructured sports.

All games and events are on hold all across Minnesota as organizations wait for the go-ahead from government officials to start play.

Minnesota Youth Athletic Services is the largest multi-sport youth organization in the state. Its Gopher State Baseball program is collaborating with the Metro Baseball League and USA Softball Minnesota on how to go forward with their seasons once play is allowed.

But until then, making ends meet is the goal.

"This pandemic has significantly affected our bottom line," MYAS Executive Director Dawson Blanck said. "Since cancelling all tournaments and special events for the months of March, April and most of May in our basketball programming and the Midwest Regional Swim Meet that we administer annually, we have lost 60% of our income for our fiscal year.

"If we lose our spring/summer Gopher State Baseball and tournament (season), that will be an even larger financial hit," Blanck added.

The youth sports community is not sitting around waiting for more financial loss. According to Aspen Institute's Project Play, "more than 400 organizations supported a letter sent this week to Congress seeking $8.5 billion in relief for the industry to recoup anticipated financial losses."

The letter highlighted the physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits of playing youth sports. It noted the 60 million kids are registered participants, that playing sports has a direct affect on lower school dropout rates, higher GPAs and the benefits of exercise to reduce childhood obesity and chronic diseases.

Gov. Tim Walz extended Minnesota's stay-at-home order to at least May 18, which makes a baseball or softball season unlikely to begin until June. There will be measures in place in how to play games while adhering COVID-19 safety guidelines.

"It would call for a phased approach to get kids back on the fields," said Dan Pfeffer, USA Softball Minnesota commissioner. "The phases are much like the ones that Walz frequently updates us about. We have a doctor reviewing the guidelines, and we are prepared to present it to the governor and his staff."

Pfeffer said if no season is played, "our company would just shut the doors for the year and reopen" next spring.

"We are a highly volunteer organization, and while it would be difficult to sit on the bench for a season, we have reason to believe we could pull it off," Pfeffer said. "And if we do not have a season, our staff will go out and get other work until we are open.

"For the umpires, it's not that simple," Pfeffer added. "Some can make as much as $5,000 a summer. Many of our officials are retirees, and having that supplemental income is critical."

MYAS has offered virtual clinics and trainings for its youth athletes for baseball and basketball, and is planning training for umpires and officials. Blanck said the organization is preparing to play at some point this summer, even though the season may be a partial one.

"We are hopeful that we may salvage some sort of league/tournament season," Blanck said. "We have empathy for our many partners, the parent volunteer basketball and baseball associations, along with the booster clubs connected to high school programs that utilize all of our basketball and baseball tournaments as fundraising mechanisms.

"Without the ability to capture all of the admissions and concessions at tournaments, it will dramatically hurt their bottom line as well," Blanck added.

More information on the MYAS is available at myas.org. Go to mbl.bz for updates on the Metro Baseball League and fastpitch.mnsoftball.com for USA Softball Minnesota.

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.

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