Youth sports: Cooperstown dreams are dashed, tourneys canceled

The end of the winter sports season was canceled, the start of the spring sports season has been delayed, but Mike Fowler never envisioned that the COVID-19 pandemic would already cancel plans for the middle of August and crush the dreams of his Seacoast Storm youth baseball team.

Cooperstown Dreams Park, located five miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame in downtown Cooperstown, N.Y., hosts weekly 12-year-old, 104-team tournaments from the beginning of June through the end of August.

Teams from all over the country arrive every Friday during the summer months, and play six pool play games before single-elimination begins on Tuesday and runs until Thursday’s championship game.

Cooperstown Dreams Park informed all 1,352 registered teams late Friday night that it was canceling the entire summer.

“In the best interest of our country, state, local community, local partners, coaches, umpires and most importantly, our employees, players and their families, whose health and safety we are obligated to protect, Cooperstown Dreams Park has determined it is necessary to cancel the 2020 season,” the press release said in part. “Cooperstown Dreams Park was hoping to avoid this outcome, but it is the only responsible course of action. Like the rest of the nation, we have never experienced anything like this. We know our staff will be resilient and steadfast in its preparation for the 2021 season and that once again the joyous sounds of kids playing the game of baseball at Cooperstown Dreams Park will be heard.”

The Seacoast Storm, composed of kids from the Seacoast Cal Ripken League, were scheduled to play in the 11th week of the season, starting Aug. 15. The team had raised just over $10,000 so far for tournament expenses.

“I had a hunch the early tournaments would be jeopardy, but I was a little surprised to hear that they canceled the entire season already,” said Fowler, the head coach of Storm. “We were certainly disappointed, no question about it. But given what’s going on in the world, it certainly is understandable in regards to the decision they made. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to see my team because of where we are in the health situation, and I’m not sure the next time we will be able to get together. But this is a bitter pill for all the families I am sure.”

Seacoast United was scheduled to send three teams in the final week of the summer, starting Aug. 28. Thaao Papakonstantis is a seventh-grade student at Cooperative Middle School in Stratham and was on one of those teams.

“It seemed like this was a bit premature, but again, we don’t understand the planning and what goes into these decisions,” said Thaao’s dad, Niko Papakonstantis. “It’s unfortunate, but that is what we’re dealing with right now, and part of the crisis we’re dealing with.”

Papakonstatis said his son took the news in stride.

“He was really looking forward to it,” Niko said. “He said he understood, but you look in the eye of a 12-year-old boy and we saw the devastation.”

Roger Allen Baseball, based out of Rochester, was scheduled to compete the week of July 25, Week 8.

“It’s awful,” Roger Allen head coach Jason Bushway said. “We’re trying to spin this into a positive. We let the kids know that this is out of hands, and this is not only for their best health, but the public in general. We don’t know when or where, but we’re still going to do something for these kids.”

Roger Allen started fundraising last August and had raised about $26,000 for tournament expenses.

Fowler, who had never been to Dreams Park, said he was looking forward to the overall experience.

“The team was going to be treated basically as professional baseball players,” Fowler said. “They had two uniforms that would be laundered; they would have played on professionally graded fields, and been playing competition from across the country. Many of these kids have been playing since they were 7 or 8 years old; this would have been a great way to end their careers. When all this is said and done, regardless of Cooperstown, I just hope all kids from ages 4 to 18 have an opportunity to play something this summer, and just to get some normalcy.”

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