MATTHEWS – Sports are back in full swing at Arthur Goodman Memorial Park now that Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association has officially kicked off its baseball and softball season.
Parents and players showed up to the park on June 1 for the first games since MARA made the decision more than two months ago to suspend all activities due to COVID-19. During the closure, board members created new policies and made changes to the park to meet state guidelines and reopen.
Those changes include closing the dugouts, installing hand-sanitizing stations and sectioning off benches on the football fields. Players can’t share equipment and they must maintain safe distances on and off the field, which means no more high fives and hugs. Spectators are limited to one person per child.
MARA president-elect Laura Budd said the push to reopen the park came largely from the parents.
“We got a lot of emails asking about our plan and they were hoping we weren’t going
to cancel the season,” she said. “I think we were all hoping that, too, because it’s so important for the kids and the community.”
MARA has a long history in Matthews. The nonprofit was started in 1956 by a group of parents who thought the community needed a little league baseball program. Today, the MARA complex – located at Arthur Goodman Memorial Park off South Trade Street in Matthews – boasts 14 fields
for baseball, softball and football. The league also has basketball, track and cheerleading
programs, as well as baseball for special needs athletes.
Board member Jeff Lorraine said MARA is lucky because it operates in a private park, so it doesn’t need to rely on schools or public facilities for fields. He said the board took the decision to reopen seriously and formed a subcommittee to tackle safety concerns.
“I know the county is looking out for the community at large, but the people want to play and it’s a choice,” Lorraine said.
More than 75% of players opted to stay and empty spots were backfilled with players from leagues in Indian Trail, Weddington and south Charlotte that canceled their seasons. MARA now has about 52 baseball and softball teams, which is less than the 72 teams scheduled to play prior to the coronavirus. T-ball was also canceled.
Members who wished to withdraw were given the option of requesting a full refund for the season (minus the cost of uniforms and expenses), transferring those fees toward future sports registration or donating the full amount to MARA.
“The board was really concerned for our members and we wanted to give options,” said Monique Brooks, MARA’s sponsor chairman.
Despite all the reshuffling, Brooks said MARA didn’t lose any sponsors. The organization has approximately 80 sponsors, including big names like Harris Teeter, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Elevation Church, Starr & Dickens Orthodontics, Better Med Urgent Care and Volvo Cars Charlotte.
“Our sponsors have been supportive during this uncertain time,” Brooks said. “In turn, I am doing as much as possible to continue to promote them to our large membership and support them back.”
Brent Barnes didn’t want his 7-year-old son, Zachary, to miss out on baseball season this year. He said playing sports and being outside is good for kids and their mental health, especially since they’ve been isolated in quarantine the last few months. At MARA, kids not only get to exercise, but they also get to see their friends and teammates.
“Children need something to do, whether it be in school, playing sports, whatever it may be,” Barnes said. “Sitting around idle is not good for children.”
Given the circumstances, Barnes said MARA did a good job implementing changes such as spreading out the teams, limiting spectators and encouraging sanitizing.
“It means a lot, especially to the kids, and as a parent, I really enjoy watching my son play baseball,” he said. “I’m just glad to be back.”
Mike Hall coaches the MARA eight-andunder Stampede softball team. The girls were a day away from starting their season when MARA announced sports were temporarily on hold.
“That was very upsetting to be ready to play and then nothing at all for the next two months,” Hall said. “I’m glad MARA has stood strong in what they believe in and made it work.”
Hall added he was happy to see many of the girls had been practicing at home during quarantine.
“When we came back, it was like we never missed a beat,” he said.
While MARA was able to work out the kinks for baseball and softball, the organization struggled to make flag football happen.
Deon Boswell, MARA’s football commissioner, said the flag football season was supposed to start March 15 and end around Memorial Day weekend, but that never happened. Instead, he was waiting to see if it could start once the state entered Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phase plan.
Phase 2 excludes tackle football and other contact sports but is unclear about flag football, Boswell said. If MARA was to move forward, it would have to limit the amount of spectators and create guidelines for social distancing, which is easier to do with sports like softball and baseball than flag football.
All in all, Boswell said, it wouldn’t have been the season players wanted.
“I am sad and a number of parents and players are sad,” he said. “We do a lot of preparation before a season starts so it’s disappointing, but I understand and we’re doing the best we can in terms of safety.”
Board member Jose Diaz said despite the loss of T-ball and flag football, he’s looking forward to MARA’s spring and summer season. It will be shorter this year, with a few more games squeezed in to make up for lost time, but something is better than nothing.
“I think that it’s important to get kids back into some type of normalcy. It feels like life is back,” Diaz said. “I’ve walked around all the fields today and all I keep hearing is, ‘It feels good to be back.’”
Want to know more?
Visit www.marasports.org for more information about the league. Like Matthews Athletic Recreation Association on Facebook and follow @mara_sports on Instagram and @MARASports on Twitter to stay connected