No hugs. No high fives. No handshakes.
Andre Wright, co-founder of the award-winning Give-and-Go-Athletics organization, can’t reach out and touch his kids, not literally. He can’t grab them on the shoulders and look them in the eye from two feet away.
No practices. No group workouts. No games.
Without the ability to get athletes together in a team setting, Wright and other youth-sports officials are using email, text messages, cellphone calls, and social media to try to maintain the sense of community and support that is the cornerstone of many of these programs, especially for at-risk children.
“This is trauma on top of trauma,” Wright said of the social distancing that has prevented coaches and mentors from gathering youngsters together in structured team settings. “I know how many of these kids need these programs. They need this support.
“What we need to do now, more than anything, is let them know they still have that support, they still have people who care about them.”
Wright is using Instagram to try to stay in touch with the nearly 1,000 youngsters who are involved with programs run by Give-and-Go-Athletics, a non-profit based in North Philadelphia that received the Robert P. Levy Community Service award at the John Wanamaker athletic awards luncheon in June.
Wright posts uplifting sayings on “Motivation Monday” and instructional videos of sports-specific workouts on Wednesdays.
Across the Philadelphia region, gyms are shut down, playgrounds are closed, and fields are gated and locked. They stand forlorn and empty as the young athletes who normally would use those facilities — and gain the physical, emotional, and social benefits — are encouraged to stay home in isolation.
Youth-sports officials are trying to stay engaged with the athletes and their families. Many are using social media to keep connected.
“This is a big concern,” said Beth Devine, executive director of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, which has 46 non-profit organizations under its umbrella. “Everybody is struggling to try to figure out the best way forward.
“We know our lane. We’re not housing. We’re not food. We’re sports. But for some of these kids, youth sports might be the only positive thing they have, the only safe space they have besides school and now they are in lockdown.
“How do we continue to reach them? How do we best stay connected with them?”
The Anderson Monarchs, a youth-sports program based at the Marion Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia, has been sending out a daily email to families, with tips, advice, and links to other content.
“This has forced us to embrace technology in a way we might not have before,” said Amos Huron, the Monarchs’ executive director. “It’s a huge challenge, but we’ve tried to fill that physical void by staying interactive with our families.
“More than anything, some of these kids just need to know that there are adults who care about them, that are still there for them, that are going to continue to reach out to them.”
Monarchs operations manager Demetrius Isaac, who played baseball and basketball at Penn Charter as well as at Chestnut Hill College, has started a Monarchs Mentors program in which he interviews former Monarchs athletes in question-and-answer sessions on Instagram Live.
“We want these kids to see that everybody has a story,” Isaac said. “You don’t have to be a superstar to have a story. Everybody has a story and we want these kids to see that they can follow any number of career paths to be successful.”
Bryan Morton, founder and president of the North Camden Little League, which serves around 750 children playing for nearly 40 baseball and softball teams across the city, said social-distancing practices created by the coronavirus outbreak have put an extraordinary strain on youngsters.
“We’re asking these kids to accept all the responsibility without any of the incentives that they normally would have,” Morton said. “We’re asking them to do their schoolwork and help out at home. But at the same time, they can’t go play in the park, they can’t hang out with their friends, they can’t play sports.
“All the things that add flavor and color to their lives have been taken away.”
Isaac said it’s vital for youth-sports officials to stay connected with athletes and their families during these turbulent times.
“It means the world,” Isaac said. “These kids might not even realize it now, but they will come to understand and appreciate people that stood by them.”
That’s been Wright’s thinking since he started Give-and-Go-Athletics with his partner, Caleb Jones, in 2009. The organization now runs recess programs in elementary schools as well as after-school programs and basketball and baseball leagues.
The baseball league was set to move this season to a larger facility at the Athletic Rec Center at 26th and Master streets from a “converted electrical yard” at 30th and Jefferson that served as their home field last season.
But now those plans are on hold, along with almost everything else related to youth sports in the city and beyond.