• 73°

Sports Force Parks open again for practices, but tournaments still on hold

Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi has reopened to the public, but its tournament schedule is still on hold.

The sports complex in Vicksburg reopened this week for local teams to practice — by appointment only — and small event rentals after being shut down for nearly a month to comply with state local restrictions on gatherings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It canceled a tournament this weekend, however, and might be forced to cancel more the longer the restrictions remain in place, said Brian Storm, the president and CEO of Sports Fields, Inc. Storm’s company operates Sports Force Parks under a contract with the city of Vicksburg.

“We’re open for practice and on the weekend for rental opportunities, but we’re still waiting patiently to fully open. We are as anxious as anybody to get back to operating at full capacity,” Storm said, adding that it might take a couple of weeks to return to full speed once the restrictions are eased. “Thinking about what we do, we’re not a spur of the moment opportunity. People don’t wake up on Thursday and say, ‘Let’s go play in a tournament on Friday. It’s really about getting a date some time in the not too distant future.”

Currently, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has limited public outdoor gatherings to no more than 20 people. As it applies to Sports Force Parks and similar sports complexes around the state, that limit is per field. So Sports Force Parks could have far more than 20 people scattered throughout its facility, but only that many on each of its dozen or so fields.

That has allowed the complex to reopen on a limited basis to host individual practice sessions for teams, but not the dozens of teams and hundreds of players that would normally swarm to Vicksburg for tournaments every spring and summer weekend.

Storm expressed some frustration with the rule, especially as similar restrictions in neighboring Louisiana have been eased and some of youth sports’ governing bodies resumed sanctioning tournaments. A local sports complex in Sterlington, Louisiana, near Monroe, will host a baseball tournament this weekend.

Casinos in Mississippi will also be allowed to reopen on May 21. Storm said allowing an indoor entertainment venue such as a casino to reopen, while restricting an outdoor space like Sports Force Parks, sent a strange message.

“In Louisiana, there are tournaments that are going to be run and teams that would have gone to our park that are going to Louisiana. We’ve talked to (USSSA) and they’re anxious to get tournaments in Vicksburg again,” Storm said. “We’re trying to comprehend and understand that if you can open a casino, then why can’t you open a sports park?”

The Memorial Day Classic youth baseball tournament is currently scheduled for May 23-24 at Sports Force Parks. Storm said it has not yet been canceled — and neither have any of a number of other tournaments scheduled for the summer months — and he remains hopeful that the emergency rules governing the park will change before Memorial Day weekend.

“Certainly, I believe our park should be opened for what is considered the first week of summer. We certainly want to capitalize on that,” he said.

On its web site, Sports Force Parks is advertising tournaments every weekend through July 4. It also plans to host a monthlong wood bat league for college baseball players, with games beginning June 21.

In the meantime, Sports Force Parks is open for local teams to practice — with plenty of rules and limitations:

• Reservations for a field must be made online at sportsforceparksvicksburg.com, or by emailing Nick Gibert at ngibert@17tournaments.com or Eric McCafferty at eric@the-sports-force.com.

No walk-ups are allowed.

• Time slots are for 1 hour and 45 minutes, and teams cannot show up until five minutes before their reservation. They must also leave no more than five minutes after their alotted time has expired.

• Fields can currently be used only for practice, and not competitive games.

• Teams are limited to one free time slot per week during local use times on weekdays, but can pay to reserve a second. Unfilled slots can also be taken by teams that have already practiced.

• The local use time slots are from 3 to 4:45 p.m., and 5 to 6:45 p.m., Monday through Friday.

• All reservations are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

• Teams are limited to no more than 20 players and coaches during a practice session, as per state and local guidelines.

Storm said coaches should strive to comply with that state restriction, but the Sports Force Parks staff is also policing the grounds to enforce it.

“There is a responsibility on everybody’s part,” Storm said. “On my part to comply with the rules, and on those attending to follow the guidance that has been set out.”