County recreation on hold during COVID-19
By Samantha Lyles
Due to COVID-19 concerns, many summer recreation mainstays are on indefinite hold, including baseball and softball, cheerleading camps, athletic skills camps, park barbecues and parties … the list goes on, and each addition makes this sunny season a bit sadder.
Though it may feel like this pandemic is going to last forever, there will come a day when kids suit up and play ball again, when the smell of grills and the sounds of parties grace our parks again, and local recreation personnel are working to ensure a smooth restart.
“Right now, we’re just trying to maintain what we have so that we can be prepared when it’s safe to start play again,” says Lee Andrews, director of Darlington County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.
The list of facilities on that maintenance list includes seven baseball fields, including six at Blue Street and one at Bowen Manor, four public parks, two football fields at Virgil Wells Stadium and Welch Stadium, the Bill Cain Tennis Center and four playgrounds.
Workers are concentrating on cleaning and upkeep at those facilities in active use, such as parks and playgrounds. This means lots of grass cutting and weed-whacking to keep summer growth at bay, and daily sanitizing of playground equipment and high-touch areas like handrails and gate handles.
“At playgrounds like Carraway Park, Orange Street, Hampton Street and Bowen Manor, everything is sprayed down with disinfectant at least once a day, usually first thing in the morning,” Andrews says.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your own precautions. We’re not requiring that you wear a mask, but you can do that. There could be two or three families playing there at the same time, so we ask that you use caution and use your best judgment with regards to social distancing.”
For now, A.W. Stanley Gym remains closed, due in part to a lack of manpower to run the facility, and in part because most gym activities were close contact sports like boxing and basketball.
“It is not safe for basketball at this moment, so we’re not doing any type of basketball,” Andrews says, noting that the Harmon Baldwin Gym is open for walkers looking to get their laps in, provided they socially distance and pass a temperature check upon entry.
Baseball, with its built-in social distancing, is another matter. The Blue Street ball fields are open on a first-come, first-served basis for pairs or small groups looking to do some drills or practice, with no appointment needed. Team practices will require a phone call to Andrews or Brantley Jett in Darlington, or Chris Weaver in Lamar, to schedule a practice.
Andrews says the adult in charge of any team practice must record the names and contact information of every individual present – players and parents – and take everyone’s temperature to minimize the chance of virus exposure.
“That’s just in case something does jump off, then we can contact everyone who was there and let them know they need to get tested,” Andrews says.
Other recreation plans include a new dog park to be built near the ball field beside Bowen Manor Apartments. This new park will receive similar daily cleaning attention to keep pet owners safe. Andrews says the dog park will feature a nearly 2-acre run and play equipment for our four-legged friends, and it should open as soon as Darlington County’s virus numbers stop spiking.
Lowering that marker – largely boosted by high numbers of new cases in Hartsville – is the key to getting county recreation started up again. Andrews shares that while a few parents have expressed impatience over disruptions of sports programs, most of those he’s spoken with agree that the risk is too high just now.
He adds that until Gov. Henry McMaster and state health authorities say it’s okay for young athletes to take the field, Darlington County recreation will remain in a holding pattern.
“We’re going to err on the side of caution anytime that a child’s safety comes into play,” says Andrews.