As the days of the coronavirus, necessitated social distancing and stay-at-home orders continue, the remainder of the prep sports schedule is further jeopardized. The resumption of basketball tournaments in both boys and girls seems doubtful at this point with spring sports also in question.
But beyond the world of high school sports, other youth sports are already being affected as well — primarily travel and AAU teams.
Adam Arthur, the director of soccer for FC Alliance South, a travel team based in Charleston, said the club’s season had begun in February, but like organized sports everywhere, has been indefinitely put on hold.
“We got a few training sessions, some games and some tournaments in and obviously we’ve hit a little hole in the road,” Arthur said. “We’re confident that with the season leading into summer — June and July is a good time to be outside anyway. We’re hoping some tournaments push back into June and July and that we can extend training sessions. We’re trying to stay positive right now.”
The travel soccer season extends into July, ending with regional tournaments. This year’s Eastern Regional Tournament is scheduled June 26-July 4 in Barboursville.
While Arthur said he hopes tournaments and showcases move back, there are also limits on how far that can go as well with schools scheduled to restart in the month of August.
Like any business, there are financial concerns as well. Arthur said that his club is still in good shape, though if the pandemic continues for months, he, like nearly everyone else, would be concerned.
“My people have been great,” Arthur said. “Something that has been really good is that everyone is coming together supporting businesses and teams — if anything we’ve gotten stronger from it.
“Financially, it depends on how long this thing goes on for. If it is weeks or a month, it’s one thing. If it’s four or five months, there will be some financial implications for sure.”
For the West Virginia Thunder, an AAU girls basketball program operating out of Huntington, its season was due to start the weekend of March 20 but was put on immediate hold. Already, the Thunder’s first three scheduled events — in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Lancaster, Pennsylvania — have all already been cancelled.
“We had our opening practice weekend for all of our teams March 20-22,” Brian Mallory, co-program director of the Thunder, said. “Basically, the kids would come in on Friday night, practice on Friday, a couple of times on Saturday and a couple of times on Sunday. We had another coming this week and we were scheduled to start playing the following week on April 5.”
Mallory added that the financially, there are no immediate concerns for the West Virginia Thunder.
“As a program, we try to budget to break even but the truth is we operate at a loss every year,” Mallory said. “It comes out of our pockets or we elicit some donations, but we will be fine.”
The financial ramifications though, stretch far beyond individual clubs and are further reaching that initially meets the eye.
John McGraw, a former Marshall women’s basketball assistant coach and the current owner and founder of Insider Exposure, a company that runs around 25 AAU tournaments nationally a year, said the entire industry is on increasingly shaky ground.
“Personally, I make probably 90 percent of my income or more from March to July,” McGraw said. “This is pretty tough. It’s not like we can reschedule these things for fall and winter.”
McGraw established his company in 2010 and has since grown the business from the ground up. Already, the company has cancelled three events this spring and it’s not just hitting McGraw’s wallet.
From officials, event operators, the facilities themselves and parents of participating athletes, McGraw said the shutdown is crippling all involved and could shake the foundation of the entire industry itself, even when basketball resumes.
“It trickles up and down,” McGraw said. “Facilities struggle to stay afloat as is and keeping the lights on is tough. How do they stay afloat? Will they have to raise ticket prices to make up for that? Then what does that mean to guys like me? I have to raise my prices. It’s a very scary prospect.
“Then you have parents who can no longer afford to let their kids play AAU. Normally, a team that has 10-12 kids may have seven and we’re not bringing in the same kind of money at the door. One of the reasons I’ve grown my business from scratch in 2010 is that I’ve let a lot of my teams play for almost nothing. My main sources of income are parents coming to watch and college coaches coming to watch. That entry fee could now be a big issue. The whole thing is scary, but the longer it goes on, will it ever be able to come back to how financially viable it is now?”