The Hillsborough Youth Athletic Association (HYAA) is ready for local kids to trade sitting around on the couch for running around on ballfields outdoors. But the zero-budget organization is struggling to reach pre-pandemic registration and volunteer levels.
“Looking back in 2019, we had about 373 players,” said Sam Sawyer, who is president of HYAA. “That does not cover softball. So, I would say close to about 400 players in the spring. We’re at about half of that right now and we do get late registrations. I’m guilty of that myself, waiting to the last minute. That’s perfectly fine and we expect that, but we’re definitely going to be lower this year.”
HYAA uses the registration fees and sponsorships to help pay for equipment for players, field-use fees, insurance and other related expenses. Regular registration for Spring baseball or softball is $120.
Fees also help pay for kids who are unable to pay the full registration. “We expected there would be some reduction in play just because some people may be hesitant. Money is tight. We want to make sure that everyone knows we won’t let a kid not play because of this issue. We have sponsorships. If we don’t have specific sponsorships, we will just incur that costs for us and make it up in fundraising. So, everyone who wants to play will play. That’s our goal.”
HYAA had to cancel all athletic activities in Spring and Fall of 2020 because of COVID-19. The association, which is part of Babe Ruth Baseball League, was seeing strong numbers with early registrations that were already flowing in. After the season was cancelled, families were given the option to receive either a refund or a credit for the next year. HYAA still had to pay fees that could not be refunded or prorated.
“We try to keep registration as low as possible,” Sawyer said. “We’ve only raised it slightly in the last few years just because things are becoming more expensive. Before that it had been many years since we raised the fees. We try to run zero budget. We tried to cover all of our costs with the registration piece.”
Another area of concern for HYAA is volunteers. HYAA is entirely volunteer-run, with coaches, coaching assistants, administration staff, and others. While registration for players is running at around 50 percent, HYAA has secured about a third of the volunteers it has in a typical season.
One key reason HYAA’s numbers are down is some families are still reluctant to have members raise the potential for possible exposure to COVID. Sawyer said the organization is sensitive to those concerns and explained the guidelines that are in place to help keep kids and coaches safe.
“We feel it is fairly safe to play baseball and softball with the way things are set up,” Sawyer said. “However, we are still going to ask the players wear masks when in the dugout getting ready to bat. They’ll be required to wear face coverings for practices, just because they can, you know, get a little close together and it’s harder to keep younger kids apart because they’re just social by nature. We are asking players to wear masks, coaches to wear masks and spectators, if they’re unable to social distance. We’re going to request, if possible, to have fewer spectators. Maybe two spectators per player. We know it’s harder when you have siblings, so we’re just asking for people to reach out if they have any questions. I’ll be happy to answer any of those. We’re adding hand sanitizers. Based on most of the other types of leagues we’ve seen, and some direction from the Babe Ruth organization, with regard to spacing of players and practices and wearing masks when players are closer together and dugouts. We’ve had pretty good success with our travel team, the Hawks. So they’ve kind of shown the way for us.”
Sawyer said anyone interested in registering their child for baseball or softball can do so on the HYAA website at www.hyaabaseball.org. Anyone interested in volunteering for HYAA can also register to do so on the website. A background check will be done for all volunteer applicants. The HYAA website also has information on the COVID-19 protocols and the league.