By Dave Ongie, News Editor
The spring sports season ended abruptly for high school athletes across the state of Tennessee when the COVID-19 outbreak prompted the TSSAA to cancel the remainder of the season on April 15. However, local high school baseball players are preparing to return to the diamond in a league being formed by Boyd Sports.
Zac Clark, general manager of the Johnson City Cardinals, told the News & Neighbor on Wednesday that plans are being finalized for the East Tennessee High School Baseball League to begin play on June 8. Local teams will compete in the league’s Eastern Division with games being played at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Johnson City and Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton.
“This is such an exciting project to work on,” Clark said. “When we found out the high school season had been lost, we were heartbroken for all of those kids, so hopefully this is a small way we can bring some joy and normalcy back to what has been an awful last couple of months do to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As of Wednesday, Clark said 14 area high school teams had committed to play in the league, including Science Hill, David Crockett, University School and Providence Academy. Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner said TSSAA rules will allow local schools to participate in the league with one caveat.
“Our coach (Ryan Edwards) and all of our kids could be in it together,” Turner said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but you just can’t use the school name. Soccer is set up that way, and so is softball, so those three sports could conceivably have some opportunities this summer.”
Clark said the regular season will last six weeks. The top team in the Eastern Division will meet the top team from the Western Division – which will play its games in Smokies Stadium in Sevierville – in a World Series.
Some details will need to be ironed out depending on updated guidance from Governor Bill Lee, but Clark said plans are being made to safely open the games to spectators with social distancing measures in place, although the number of fans that will be admitted has yet to be determined. Plans are also being implemented to safely provide concessions to fans.
“Obviously we don’t anticipate filling it up like a Cardinals game, but folks that want to get outside and see some baseball and hang out, we’d like to welcome them into the stadium, too,” Clark said.
With plans falling into place for the high school league, Clark said Boyd Sports is still in wait-and-see mode when it comes to the potential of hosting Minor League Baseball games this summer. If Minor League Baseball is able to get cranked up at some point in early July – which seems to be the best possible scenario at the moment – Clark said plans will be made to complete the high school league season even if games have to be rescheduled.
“We know we’re going to have to wait for Major League Baseball to get going, and some of the reports have talked about the Fourth of July or beyond,” he said. “So we should be a good bit of the way through this league.”