Every facet of daily life has been impacted in the River Wards and beyond by the COVID-19 pandemic, sports being no exception.
Star is checking in with local sports organizations and athletes and delving into how they fared over the last few months and what lies ahead on the courts and fields of tomorrow.
First up is the Bridesburg Cougars Athletics Club.
Formed in 1972, the nonprofit organization has been a staple for youth sports in the 19137 community for decades, serving anywhere from 500 to 1,000 athletes a year.
This season looked notably different.
Baseball and softball registrations had just wrapped up, and teams and schedules were being set for the 2020 season last March when COVID hit.
“We were in limbo like everyone else, so we just put everything on pause until we heard from leagues what the plan was,” said Sue Pickford, treasurer at the Cougars. “We really didn’t officially cancel the season until mid-May and then I had to start the process of sending refunds back to all the parents.”
The entire baseball season, which included softball, T-ball and rookie ball, was benched completely.
Soccer got some kicks, but it wasn’t the same.
“Luckily, some of the restrictions were lifted and we were able to have somewhat of an outdoor soccer season. We were able to have our outdoor house soccer program, and a few of our travel teams were able to play in leagues outside of the city,” Pickford shared. “The teams that were not able to travel that far did practices at the bridge field, so at least the kids were doing something.”
So far this season, basketball and indoor soccer have been cancelling.
The cheerleading program recently decided to cancel the rest of the season, and start fresh in June, according to Pickford.
With the current restrictions put in place by the City of Philadelphia, the organization is focusing on outdoor sports.
“We are having registrations online for baseball, softball, T-ball and rookie ball,” Pickford said. “Although we haven’t heard the requirements yet, we are hopeful that by the time the season would start in April that we would be able to have some activity since it is an outdoor sport.”
Keeping kids engaged, while adhering to guidelines, has been a struggle, but one the organization thinks is paramount to the well-being of those it serves.
“The Cougars did whatever we could to try to get the kids involved in some kind of activity. Once the guidelines changed before the summer last year, we knew we had to at least get soccer up and running as well as the house league,” Pickford said. “Since everyone was stuck inside, both parents and kids, by basically opening back up for soccer, we were able to get them out into the fresh air and move around. Our cheer program also started back up with having outdoor practices at the rec center.”
Sports weren’t the only thing impacted by COVID.
Cougars traditions and fundraising took hard hits, too.
“Fundraising for the club has been hard, and we even had a major fundraiser for the club set up with the comedian Aunt Mary Pat scheduled back in April 2020. Since the pandemic and with the amount of tickets that were sold, we have had to keep postponing it,” Pickford said. “We are hopeful that we can finally have this maybe later in the spring or even early fall.”
Because the shutdown timeline wasn’t set in stone, the club got creative to keep operating, and set up a separate Facebook group to do online raffles.
“We started out raffling all the baskets off that were made up for the Aunt Mary Pat fundraiser as well as opening day. I had between 25-30 baskets in my house for those events and most of them had perishable items in them, so I had to do something,” Pickford said. “It was such a success that I continued the raffles throughout the year with other prizes like grills, bikes and other big-ticket items that were popular last year.”
One of the biggest disappointments of the season was cancelling opening day, which sees the entire organization parade down Richmond Street to the Cougars field, with celebrations including a ceremonial first pitch.
To Pickford’s knowledge, the beloved tradition has been canceled only one other time in the program’s history.
“So many people look forward to opening day. It is such a big community event and a lot of work goes into it by so many people,” Pickford said. “It would be great to have it this year, but that doesn’t even look like it will happen, which is very disappointing, but we have to do what we have to do to keep everyone safe.”
The game plan moving forward is safely getting kids back in the game, even if it means some delays along the way.
”Our plan moving forward is to hopefully bring back all that the Cougars offer to the community, even if it takes a little at a time. I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love to see all the kids back on the field, playing their sport and hearing all the cheering from the parents,” Pickford said. “It’s going to take some time to get back to our ‘normal,’ but the entire board is dedicated to do whatever is needed.”