County recreation comes to a halt

Peter Shepard dribbles down the basketball court at Wampler-Keith Park in Lenoir City.

Organized recreational opportunities around Loudon County are coming to a full stop this spring.

Both Lenoir City and Loudon Parks and Recreation departments have been forced to cancel or suspend leagues, games and other future events as precautionary measures against the potential spread of COVID-19.

“We actually had to cancel our adult basketball league, and we were right in the middle of it, so we canceled it,” Zack Cusick, Lenoir City parks and recreation programs coordinator, said. “As far as spring baseball goes, we’re currently following the school schedule, so the schools as of right now are going back, at least right now, until April 6. We’re kind of doing the same thing.”

Cusick is hopeful to start the youth baseball league within the next month.

“We went ahead and drafted the teams so coaches know who’s on their team and players and kids should know what team they’re on currently, but we’re not having any sanctioned practices through parks and rec,” he said. “Normally at the draft, they’ll sign up for their certain practice times during the week and on Saturdays, but we’re not going to honor those until the week of April 6. We won’t be turning on the lights at the (Lee Russell) Complex for the practices or opening the bathrooms at the complex during those practice times until the week of April 6.”

Coaches and teams are encouraged to “use common sense” if they choose to practice elsewhere.

The latest recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states groups of people should be limited to 10 people or less and must stay at least 6 feet apart.

“What we told the teams, it’s completely up to them if they want to try to have a practice on their own or in small groups or have parents just do individual work, obviously, during this time,” Cusick said. “Until schools go back, currently the week of April 6, then we’ll start turning on the lights, opening up the bathrooms and hopefully be able to start the baseball season. With everything going on, the practices at least are delayed.”

Loudon Parks and Recreation has also canceled and/or postponed all upcoming athletic and community events until further notice.

“We have just (Monday morning) decided to close all of our public bathrooms in all the parks, and that’s just for sanitary reasons,” Mark Harrell, Loudon parks and recreation director, said. “We have also discontinued any future programs at least for the next eight weeks, and that includes our Food Truck Fridays, our Easter egg hunt and possibly as much as the Fourth of July Independence Day celebration. We’re watching it just like everyone else is. We’re hoping that in four weeks, we look back at this and say, ‘It was a little bit maximum,’ but we hope that is the issue and we get to bring everything back up.”

Parks across the county will remain open for now. The Central Park playground in Lenoir City will be closed.

“Practicing safe social distancing is mandatory, but we are asking people to get out and walk on the trails, walk on the nature trails,” Harrell said. “We’ve got the disc golf area, there’s things that you can do but avoid areas like playgrounds, picnic shelters, things that can hold the virus for a limited time. The parks are open for those other activities.”

Cusick is also encouraging people to get out and be active during this time while adhering to CDC and federal guidelines.

“The parks are still currently open, as far as on our end, we haven’t come down and closed though at all yet, but we still emphasize kind of what the president and the governor have emphasized to the public as well,” he said. “You still need to be in groups of less than 10 and since they are in open parks, they’re still able to get out there and walk and potentially play on them in the playgrounds and everything but still using social distancing as a guideline to not get around big groups or big areas. Since most of our parks are bigger, open areas, there is enough room in the area for people to come but still use social distancing.”