SPT Westerly Little League-WS-052920 17849.JPG

Art Burton, president of the Westerly National Little League, poses at the Paul E. Trombino Sports Complex. Burton is hopeful baseball can resume in August with the District 3 fall ball league. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

For Matt Bergel, this has been a spring to forget.

Bergel, 48, serves as president of the North Stonington Little League.

"It's been one of the worst experiences of my life," he said. "I've been on the field for the last 28 years. And not to have it this spring is absolutely horrible."

Bergel's sentiments echo those of league presidents from Chariho, Pawcatuck and Westerly National. The coronavirus pandemic has left them without a season.

"It's heartbreaking. It's a ghost town out there," Art Burton, president of the Westerly National Little League said.

Adam Linicus, president of the Pawcatuck Little League, agrees.

"It stinks," Linicus said. "I think the whole situation is pretty sobering. It's a rite of spring that we've taken for granted."

Westerly National, Pawcatuck and North Stonington have all canceled their spring seasons.

Pawcatuck and North Stonington, which offer baseball and softball, will reassess the situation on July 1 and combine leagues if play resumes. Westerly may have some clinics over the summer and is looking to fall ball that starts in August.

Chariho is still hoping to hold its spring season.

"We are not canceling the spring season yet," league president Josh Davis said. "We are postponing it to a later date. We hope to start it later in the summer."

Chariho polled its parents to see how they wanted the season to unfold. The league has around 300 participants and received 130 responses to the poll. About 70% percent said they would allow their child to play with restrictions and 10% said they would consider it.

Davis said his league would be in trouble if it ends up canceling the spring season and 100 percent of its participants sought refunds. But he does not anticipate that happening.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday youth sports will be allowed next week. Activities would be limited to 15 participants, but league sports and tournaments would not be allowed. This would seem to allow practices.

All four leagues have ongoing expenses even without games being played.

The other three leagues offered their parents the option of donating a portion or all of their registration fees, rolling it over to next season or receiving a refund.

"We've heard from about half of our registrations and we've already received $3,000 in donations," Linicius said. "We are are in pretty decent financial shape."

Pawcatuck has about 300 participants in its baseball and softball programs.

"We were conservative," Bergel said. "The only thing we spent money on was for gear for next year; we held off on ordering uniforms. All of the field work has been donated. We will be OK. We have some businesses in town that really take care of us."

Burton said he is not concerned about Westerly National's viability.

"I know for a fact we have a very generous board and support in our communities," he said. "We are not going anywhere. We will do what we have to do to make it work."

Westerly National had a big season planned with the 70th celebration of the team that went to the Little League World Series, the 35th anniversary of the opening of Trombino Field, a Mother's Day game and a home run derby. The league was also set to host the 11-year-old All-Star state tournament.

All four league presidents know games will be different.

"We've looked at keeping our roster sizes down, maybe play with just three reserves," Davis said. "We may have players along the fence with social-distance guidelines rather in the dugout."

Balls used in the games may have to dunked in a sanitizing solutions. Chariho has also explored the possibility of using neck gaiters, which could be pulled over the mouth and nose when required.

The league presidents added that they expected the restrictions will be more easily implemented for teams with older players.

"Our primary focus is 100 percent safety," Davis said.

All four are confident some type of baseball will be played at some point.

"These kids needs this. It's important for their development," Burton said. "If we have to put kids on the fence or have popup tents, we will. We are not leaving anything off the table. It can be done."

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