Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said that the Parks Department will begin issuing field permits as of mid-September, a reversal that followed a week of pleas from parents, league organizers and local officials who said many youth sports leagues depended on the permits.
The mayor announced the decision during the “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.
"Our children have been through so much this year and have been yearning for more outdoor play,” de Blasio said later in an emailed statement. “Thankfully we’re continuing to see improvement in beating back this disease, and can safely permit youth sports this fall. We’ll continue to monitor our progress and put health and safety first."
Fall athletic permits for sports including baseball, softball and soccer will resume on September 15th, according to the mayor’s office. Indoor sports, including swimming, are excluded from this list.
Leagues who choose to play this fall must follow social distancing rules, and coaches, staff, spectators and players on the sidelines must wear a mask. If possible, players are encouraged to wear masks while active, the mayor’s office added. Additional guidelines include no more than two spectators per player and no congregation following the game.
Under the new fall permits, the Parks department will be responsible for monitoring league activities and if a team accumulates three violations, the league’s permit will be revoked.
If the city’s percentage of positive covid tests exceeds three percent, permits will be suspended for all sports.
Last week, citing “health and safety concerns,” the Parks Department announced it would not be issuing field permits for the fall and that those who wished to use the city’s public parks and fields could do so on a first-come first-served basis.
“Baseball, softball and Little League teams can play or practice on any open field,” said Charisse Hill, a Parks Department spokesperson, told Gothamist. “As this public health crisis is ever-evolving, we will continue to reassess our ability to issue permits.”
Parents, league organizers and local officials — including one U.S. Congressman — urged the city to reconsider the decision, which some called “arbitrary” and “inconsistent” with city and statewide covid guidelines. A lack of field permits in the middle of a pandemic, local officials and parents told Gothamist, would compromise the safety and the organization of many youth sports leagues who choose to go forward with the fall season. They instead suggested the city condition permits on safety compliance. The group issued a public letter addressed to the Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
More than 8,000 people also signed a public petition asking fall field permits to be reinstated.
Shortly after Mayor de Blasio’s announcement, Senator Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn, who had signed the letter, praised the city’s reversal on Twitter.
“This is a victory for the many children & families in desperate need of a healthy, safe outlet,” Gounardes tweeted. “This will make a big difference for families and it's just common sense.”
Mark Levine, a Manhattan City Councilmember who chairs the health committee, also commended the decision.
“This is a victory for recreation opportunities, for public health and for equity,” he said. “It’s simply much safer to have organized leagues who are able to follow established standards than to have a totally unregulated, unorganized system with no way of enforcing rules.”
The Parks Department did not issue permits this summer, opting instead for a first-come, first-serve policy. Even without a permit, some youth leagues like Inwood-Manhattan Little League moved forward with its summer season. But the neighborhood little baseball league has faced social distancing and mask enforcement challenges since the start of the season.
Some had argued that cancelling fall field permits would have exacerbated the city’s existing economic disparities for kids with few recreational opportunities.
Those like Jayra Paredes Dilone, a mother whose two teenagers are enrolled in the South Bronx United soccer league, do not have the means to pay for private fields or at-home private training sessions if the fall season is cancelled.
Her children have spent the last six months cooped up inside their Bronx apartment hoping to play during the fall season.
“There are many families including myself that cannot afford to pay for an out-of-town league or another league,” Dilone, 42, said earlier this week. “They won’t be able to play. It’s a disservice to the kids.”
Had the decision not been revoked, her children would have most likely stayed inside this fall.
Andrew So, the executive director of the South Bronx United, a soccer organization that tries to engage immigrant and first-generation youth, previously told Gothamist it was unlikely its fall soccer league would take place if the Parks Department did not reverse course.
“Our many families and children are so grateful for the opportunity to safely return to our city’s beautiful parks and resume participation in youth sports and recreational programs,” So said in an email statement. “The fall season will positively impact the mental and physical health of tens of thousands of young New Yorkers who need to enjoy the outside air, stay active, compete, and interact responsibly with teammates and friends.”
South Bronx United— which did not play this summer but did hold practices—already has a covid safety plan in place which includes prohibiting spectators on the field and making masks mandatory for everyone, especially coaches and staff.
On Friday, Dilon, who had just heard the news from the league’s director, attributed the reversal to the hundreds of parents who rallied calling for a reversal.
“A lot of noise was made,” Dilon said. “If you make enough noise, you will be heard. Parents signed the petition, they emailed city hall, they called the mayor’s office. The city saw that this was getting traction and we were heard.”