Feature Article - November 2020
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Comeback Kids

Youth Sports Programming Amidst a Pandemic

By Rick Dandes


Back to the Y

When the Susquehanna Valley YMCA re-opened its facilities, they had many recommendations and protocols to consider. McDowell decided to open slowly, allowing people to come in and use equipment as it was. "That's always a good idea. It was before we actually restarted our programs," McDowell said. "We blocked off and separated the cardio equipment so that there was none within six feet of each other. People could come in and feel safe knowing they could use our cardio equipment. We did that with all our equipment in our fitness centers. We didn't allow the gymnasiums to be used quite yet. We just opened for exercise. That is how we started."

The way the YMCA progressed was deliberate and thoughtful, so that staff knew they could take the next step in their cleaning processes and all the protocols and guidelines that they would be following when their programs began. "How we did this," McDowell explained, "was by being open just for fitness members. Then we began our exercise classes led by instructors, cycling and the body exercise classes."

The Y continued doing virtual classes during the whole shutdown, "and I'm proud of that," McDowell said. "Not every Y was able to do that but we did, from the beginning of the closure. Our instructors worked from their homes teaching classes on Facebook Live. So, if you were a member of the Y, you would get the authority to log into that Facebook Live class while it was being taught in real time by our instructors. We had a lot of good feedback about that. People were happy that they had an opportunity to be working out."

McDowell said that overall, they are about at 50% of their members back. Daily utilization is about 40%, compared to a year ago.

Youth swim programs are also back, she said. "We just brought back youth swim and lessons [in October]. Other youth sports are back as well, but only after setting up guidelines. Things are different. Parents aren't bringing their children in and sitting in the gym watching their kids like they used to. They bring them to the door, the instructor takes their temperature, makes sure their hands are washed and that they are masked. Then they go to the gym and participate in the program (participants don't wear masks while in play). When they are through, the instructor brings the kids back to the door, where parents pick them up."

Following guidelines, the YMCA is limiting the people in the facilities, and limiting exposure by doing that. "We make sure the kids are sanitizing their hands at sanitizing stations we've placed in our facilities," she said. "We have taken our time bringing things back. We wanted to see how schools planned their re-opening and once they did, we felt comfortable. Another thing is our classes are smaller, compared to what it was before."

When McDowell was putting together all these guidelines, protocols and procedures, she used what was recommended by the CDC and the department of health. "Every state is different," she said. "We shared experiences with other Ys around the country. We had webinars, and Zoom meetings with other CEOs. It was great to get guidance from other CEOs and see how they dealt with their individual challenges. The YMCA made welcome-back videos for kids so that they'd know what to expect when they returned—virtual tours."

It's tough to accurately plan ahead because the pandemic is unpredictable, McDowell said. "Things are so fluid, even when we plan our budget for next year. Usually our budget is done in October for the next year. We are not doing a traditional budget process timeline. We are going to do it by quarter. By season. There is no way right now that we would know what summer 2021 is going to look like.

"I heard another YMCA CEO say, 'We're going to bring back members one at a time.'" McDowell said. "It is going to take that time to communicate with members and people in our communities that things are safe." RM