Legion teams ready for 2020 season after tough spring

Andrew Holtan/Register: On May 13, the South Dakota Legion Athletic Commission held a meeting and approved to sanction a 2020 season that will be administered by sponsoring posts, coaches and managers. The Brookings Bandits' first game will be played on June 12 in Sioux Falls.

It’s been a whirlwind of a spring for the Brookings legion baseball teams.

Their season has been up in the air since March when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. On May 9, the South Dakota Legion Athletic Commission decided that they would play the 2020 season as long as local, state and national guidance concerning COVID-19 was followed. The next day, the National American Legion Executive Committee decided to shut down all sponsorship and all involvement in baseball for the 2020 season. 

“It was a little bit of a rollercoaster with the timing of [the decisions],” Brookings Legion head coach Robb Hirrschoff said. “We had gotten word that South Dakota was going to get the go ahead. … We had heard that South Dakota was going to be okay and then we had got official word Saturday night and were pretty excited. Then less then 12 hours later we got word that the national organization had stepped in and kind of overrode all the states and said no American legion play which was pretty disappointing.”

This did not mean that the season was completely canceled, but the state of South Dakota would need to come up with their own rules, guidelines, schedules and insurance coverage as the national organization would not provide assistance. On May 13, the South Dakota Legion Athletic Commission held a meeting and approved to sanction a 2020 season that will be administered by sponsoring posts, coaches and managers.

“We had a pretty good idea that the majority of the Class A teams in South Dakota were going to move forward on their own, but we didn’t really lay too much down until that meeting. … We grinded it out for over two hours over a zoom meeting and just did most of the stuff with majority rules,” Hirrschoff said.

If South Dakota teams want to participate in 2020 they need to follow the guidelines provided by the commission. Each player and their parent or guardian must fill out a form. Each team or post must obtain insurance and proof of insurance prior to practicing and playing. Teams have until June 10 to produce proof of insurance, but Brookings has already done this.

“We have to get insurance for our younger teams anyways, so we just went through that. Each player is going to sign a waiver form saying that they know the risk with the COVID situation. … Almost everybody that originally signed up said they were going to continue to play. The large majority of our kids our excited to play and I think the parents are excited to get going with stuff,” Hirrschoff said.

Teams must also submit a roster to State Legion Headquarters by June 10 and teams must develop local rules for playing baseball. The athletic commission suggested that it is recommended that teams use the South Dakota American Legion rules.

The Bandits, Brookings’ legion team, is trying to figure out how their schedule is going to work and Hirrschoff said that has been one of the more difficult things about this situation. One of the reasons scheduling has been difficult is because of the construction of Bob Shelden Field. The Bandits usually play their home games at Bob Shelden, but the entire facility is going to be under construction all season. The Bandits were hoping to play at Erv Huether Field on the South Dakota State campus, but campus is not open due to the virus, so they cannot play there.

The Bandits will not play any home games this season. They began practice this week and will be forced to practice at different fields around the county.

“[The schedule] is just kind of a work in progress until everybody until everyone gets the full clearance from their city to play. Which most people think will happen towards the end of May or early June. But we have a lot of it taken care of. Right now, we’re practicing at a combination of Mickleson Middle School, a little bit of practicing in Aurora when we need a full size field and then some of our other practices will be in the batting cages and the small side fields. We’re going to have to improvise a little bit, but we’re view it as a glass half full situation because we’re fortunate that we get to play,” Hirshoff said. 

In this unique situation, Hirrschoff said he has thrown all of his expectations for this season out the window.

“We’ve got about a 50/50 mix of players from last year and kids moving up from junior legion,” Hirrschoff said. “This is one where I’ve kind of put my expectations off to the side a bit just because it’s so bizzare. We got going for almost a month of preseason indoor work back in February and we looked really good early season, but all of the sudden that’s three months ago. … I’m viewing these next three weeks of practice as a bonus because this isn’t something we always get to do especially with the older guys. They go from hopefully the high school tournament every year to a quick turnaround to legion where we only practice once or twice. So these three weeks of practice are very important and hopefully we can kind of use it to put everything in place and hit the ground running.”

The Bandits first game will be June 12 in Sioux Falls. It is a tournament with likely only in-state teams, so they will also be playing games on June 13 and 14.

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