Arkansas Soccer Association makes plans for returning to play amid COVID-19 restrictions
June 29 - July 5, 2020
By Krishnan Collins
Local Arkansas sports leagues looking to restart amid the COVID-19 pandemic face challenges of their own returning to the field.
The Arkansas Soccer Association (ASA) holds many different leagues and divisions of soccer with numerous clubs stretching from recreational to competitive play.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s May 21 directive making soccer a close contact sport meant teams across Arkansas could not play games at all or practice with contact. The directive went into effect June 1 and is set to be reevaluated June 30.
“When we do practice, during vigorous exercise, the players and coaches have to be 12 feet apart from one another among several other restrictions set forth in that directive,” ASA Executive Director Jim Walker said.
Usually, summer means tryout time for many club teams, officials said, but this year tryouts have been different. While some clubs opted to wait until Gov. Hutchinson’s directive is reevaluated June 30, others went ahead and held tryouts in a different setting.
“The clubs are being pretty creative,” Walker said. “One club in Northwest Arkansas has an online form where you select the day and time you would like to try out and then the coaches reach back to the player to confirm it. Then they have a series of drills set up for one or two players at a time so there are no worries of having too many people at a given location.”
There is a possibility clubs could also lose money this season because of a shortened spring season. However, Walker, a former attorney, said he did what he could to make sure clubs around the state did not lose money.
“We worked hard to help the clubs,” Walker said. “I went through and read all of the CARES Act, made sure all of our clubs were aware of the PPP money that was available to them as well as the EIDL money that was available from the federal government. That has helped sustain a lot of the clubs.”
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, the U.S. Small Business Administration has provided over $700 billion in forgivable loans and other financial assistance through the agency’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) initiative.
Walker said clubs around Arkansas have not had to worry as much as other places have about reducing the cost of operation recently, but some measures have been put into place.
“One of the factors of the CARES Act is that it provides for an above the line tax donation,” Walker explained. “I have been working with the players to encourage their parents to use the spring registration fee as a donation instead of seeking a cash refund. Then parents will get an above the line adjusted gross income tax benefit when they file in April 2021.”
Some clubs are also asking parents to take their registration fee from the shortened spring season, and have it count as a credit for the fall. Walker said he hopes there will not be a large decrease in the number of soccer players in Arkansas this season due to the fear of COVID-19.
“The return of consumer confidence is going to be a big thing,” Walker said. “With respect to how far people are willing to travel, are they willing to stay at a hotel for a tournament? I think there is going to be a little bit of that that comes into play. It may take some time since we are having more teams playing local games as opposed to playing in big tournaments in Dallas, Memphis or Kansas City.”
Although teams in Arkansas cannot play matches, clubs in Texarkana that practice in Texas can conduct practice under Texas law. Teams in Northwest Arkansas were also given permission to travel to play in a tournament in Oklahoma since matches are allowed in the Sooner State.
While teams in other states have started their seasons, Walker said he hopes that with luck teams can be back to full contact practice and scrimmages by the early part of July in Arkansas.
“What I would really like to see is the number of positive cases come down,” Walker said. “[That way] players and parents don’t stress about whether or not if playing soccer is worth it in this environment. I think we’ll get back to some semblance of normalcy, it’ll just take time to gain that consumer confidence back.”
PHOTO CAPTIONS: (Photos courtesy of UA Little Rock Athletics)
1. A-State players Riley Ebenroth and Lindsey Brochu attempt to close down Little Rock’s Doro Greulich in the Trojan’s 3-0 victory.
2. Red Wolf Taylor Schneider goes in for a tackle against Trojan midfielder Doro Greulich in a match between the two in-state rivals.