Summer rec programs drove, rallied, sailed on through Covid

Aug 24, 2020

On Marion Recreation Director Jody Dickerson’s desk sat a large three-ring binder full of Covid regulations for holding sport programs. On any given day, he would add a page of regulations to the binder at 8 a.m., swap it with revised regulations at noon, and have to swap it out again at 4 p.m.

Though regulations constantly shifted, and the number of programs offered decreased, both Marion Recreation, Mattapoisett Recreation and the Mattapoisett Community Sailing Association offered opportunities for outdoor play that resembled some sort of normalcy.

“It was very challenging, but it went well,” Dickerson said. 

In May, the prospect of even having programs this summer was up in the air. 

Marion Recreation decided to cancel all its summer programs because Dickerson and his staff found it increasingly difficult to go ahead with certain activities. 

As time went on though, he realized that sailing, golf and tennis could be held in a socially-distanced fashion. 

The need was there too, as Dickerson said all the programs had waiting lists to participate.

For sailing, only one person was allowed on a boat (with exception of family members), and golf and tennis are already naturally distanced.

Golf lessons were introduced this year at Reservation Golf Club in Mattapoisett because of the ease of holding a safe program. 

What couldn’t work was daily summer camp programs and field trips.

“How do you keep a six and a seven year old separated who haven’t seen each other in months?” Dickerson asked, rhetorically.

At Silvershell Beach, Head Lifeguard Patrick Cummings and his staff couldn’t lead swimming lessons, because it’s hard to keep space in the water between an instructor and student.

Still, he said the transition to a Covid-fied beach went well, especially given it was his first season as head lifeguard.

“Seeing the guards follow the rules made it that much easier,” Cummings said.

Out on the water in Mattapoisett, MattSail made “we sail on!” its unofficial motto for the summer. 

The program had to reduce the number of participants in each session, but had all of its slots completely filled. 

Children sailed in a variety of boats with two participants and one instructor to a boat. They wore masks if they could not stay 6 feet apart, and had their temperature taken each day at the gate. 

Siblings were also kept together in the same boat as much as possible. And the program saw no cases. 

“I have heard not one negative thing. People are so glad we are doing this, especially parents,”  Sailing Director Mark Thornhill said.  

He emphasized that he “couldn’t have done it without the support of the community, Town, and his board of directors.” 

The director said that staying outside all day was hard, since he is used to having the bathhouse in inclement weather. There were a few times where he had to cancel for the day or have early pickups because conditions were so bad.

“A lot of people didn’t think we could do it, but we have,” Thornhill said, adding that his goal was just for his sailors to be safe and have fun.  

Second year instructor Julia Reilly said there were “a lot of regulations” and it was “weird with masks since you can’t really see people.” 

First year instructor Erin Eilertsen added it was “a lot more preparation to be outside.” 

Despite the change, participant Murray Callahan said the program “kept it the same in that you still get to have fun and do a lot.”

Julia’s mother, Maj Lindhal-Reilly said for participants, the “feeling that they can be in any boat” and know how to sail it lets them “feel like they accomplish something.” 

Crystal Walsh grew up in town, and would come visit with her family for summers Her son, Linden, has been in Tabor sailing camps, but switched to MattSail this year when Tabor cancelled programs. 

MattSail was accommodating and allowed Linden to join for the program for one week after quarantining and moving this month. 

Mattapoisett Recreation cancelled many of its summer programs, but was able to hold golf clinics, and actually increased the number of sessions from 3 to 4. 

Director Greta Fox said that she allowed 20 to 22 kids per session, and still had a waiting list of about six people per session. 

“At a certain point I had to stop saying that I would put people on a wait list, because there was no way that anyone is going to withdraw,” Fox said, adding that some youngsters signed up for all four sessions. 

Precautions for the program included masks, assigning each child their own clubs so they didn’t share, and eliminating indoor meals. Golfers are already kept pretty far apart to minimize risk of accidents while swinging clubs, but this year instructors were even more mindful of the distance. 

“People were really looking for a covid-friendly activity,” Fox said. 

With fall just around the corner, Dickerson said Marion Rec has the approval for soccer, but regulations are constantly changing for game rules.

When regulations first came out for the sport, commonplace moves like heading wasn’t allowed.

“That’s not soccer if you can’t do that,” Dickerson said. But by the end of the day when they were released, the rules had already loosened up.

For the winter, he said it is going to be a challenge for sports like basketball because of the close contact.

“Our one concern has been, is, and always will be safety,” Dickerson said.