One year after the first documented case of COVID-19 came to Washington state and dramatically changed daily life, many organizations and businesses have found ways to resume their normal activities, and kids’ sports are no exception. Around Sammamish, non-profit organizations have been shrewd about keeping children socially and physically active.
One such organization is Eastlake Baseball Club Arsenal, a non-profit organization founded in 2017. The founder, Ryan Iraola, already has experience taking the initiative in community sports.
Iraola started with one team for his son and his friends when they were seven. He wanted a local baseball organization that was affordable and fun. When Iraola could not find one, he decided to start his own team. The club has since expanded to five teams, with over fifty-five members and kids between eight and twelve years old.
“We travel to tournaments and kids get to stay in hotels (with their parents) and swim in the pools. It is like a kid’s birthday party each time we travel,” said Iraola. “We do fun team building events. We did a team Mariners game and got on the big screen.”
Typically, the club has an extensive agenda of training, meets and tournaments. Because of the pandemic, activities have been limited to mainly practices. Tryouts continued as usual in August 2020.
The baseball club has taken a variety of safety measures to stay COVID-safe. It issued a Back to Play safety plan to all members. The club purchased temperature gauges, touchless hand sanitizer dispensers and masks for everyone. Coaches, players and families have to adhere to social distancing protocols. The club has continued to enforce these practices throughout the second lockdown over the holidays.
Athletes for Kids is a non-profit organization that matches high school athletes to mentor children with special needs and disabilities. It was established in Sammamish in 2001 and has since expanded to other cities in Washington.
Their COVID-safe measures have severely impacted the nature of their service. Normally, mentors meet up with their mentees, or “buddies,” weekly or bi-weekly. Meetings comprised of a variety of activities including sports, playing board games, taking walks, or simply talking.
Issaquah High School senior Hannah Kelly, an Athletes for Kids mentor, describes the new ways that mentors and buddies are allowed to bond, since mentors can no longer go inside their buddy’s house.
“I could still visit her outside her home, but when COVID numbers went up, I decided it would be safest to do online meetings instead, for a few months,” Kelly said. “Now, we zoom and play virtual games.”
Most of the program mentors are athletes. According to Kelly, they are not able to use sports to foster a strong connection with the children.
The shift to an almost completely virtual setting has taken its toll on the organization’s services, causing a large decline in the number of participants.
“Most parents who normally would have jumped at the opportunity to give their child a high school role model, were not looking to have their child spend more time on Zoom,” said Kelly.
On a positive note, Kelly feels that Athletes for Kids is more prepared than ever for any potential closures in the future. She strongly urges individuals to join during this time, whether as a mentor or buddy.
Meanwhile, Issaquah High School senior Sravani Nanduri has continued her job as a ski instructor at Mohan Ski School, a non-profit organization that was established in 1960 and offers its services throughout the greater Seattle area.
Ordinarily, Nanduri would give ski lessons to a group of six to eight students.
“Because of the pandemic, I did not feel comfortable teaching that many students and ended up working with only two children,” Nanduri said.
Skiing is a contactless activity that naturally adheres to social distancing. The only adjustments made by the ski school were smaller class sizes and mandatory masks.
Nanduri felt the skiing business adapted more easily to the recent wave of state-mandated closures. They did not have to reinvent the wheel like they did during the first lockdown last spring.
“The only changes were mandating masks and decreasing the number of students [again]. While we did end classes a week early, it was not a major obstacle for us,” said Nanduri.
Nanduri highlights that Mohan Ski School is currently still a great option for kids and even entire families to get outdoors and exercise. While COVID-19 has had grave repercussions on indoor activities, skiing has, for the most part, experienced only minor effects.
These three organizations have successfully adapted to the pandemic. Their perseverance has given kids in Sammamish a few more outlets to stay active and engaged.