By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – De Pere has good news for young athletes: The city’s athletic fields and ball diamonds will be opening next month.
The De Pere Common Council paved the way Tuesday, March 16, for the opening by modifying some public-health emergency limits.
Starting April 15, fields and diamonds will open for tryouts and practices.
Organized events of up to 200 people, including athletes, will be allowed to gather on the fields and in the stands.
Coronavirus mitigation strategies, such as face masks and spacing out seating, are still the policy, especially around concession areas and places where people tend to congregate.
Last summer, athletic fields were limited to 50 people per field.
The initial idea going into the meeting was to open it to 100 people with concessions allowed or 150 people without concessions, due to people taking their masks off and “bottlenecking” around the snack counter area, said Marty Kosobucki, director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
Several coaches spoke at the meeting in favor of the reopening and urged more leniency.
They extolled the open spaces and ability to keep people socially distant.
Jim Westerman, president of De Pere Rapides Youth Soccer Club, said his teams are anxious to get onto the pitch.
“We didn’t have a season last year because the limit of 50 (people) last year wasn’t feasible,” he said. “Looking at what we’re going to be doing, in an outdoor setting, I think we can add people and still be safe.”
Derek Rhodes, executive director of De Pere Select Soccer Club, said his older teams have 18 players, so to have two teams, plus referees and coaches on the sidelines adds up fast.
“Then you talk about two parents per player, and right away you are at 150, and 150 to 200 for a game isn’t crazy if you have some families of five or six,” Rhodes said.
He said his nonprofit organization relies on concession sales to raise funds.
“They’re a big moneymaker for us, so to limit it (field capacity) even to 150 people would be a hardship,” Rhodes said.
Annette Krutz, vice president of the De Pere Girls Softball Association, said spectators can spread out, even sitting beyond the fences in center field.
“There are a lot of grandparents who haven’t seen their grandkids play,” she said.
She said she felt it was necessary to allow players to keep hydrated and supported allowing concessions.
In other news, the Legion Park pool facility will also be open this year, with capacity limited and facemasks for everyone not in the water.