COVID-19 vaccine requirement keeps NJ teams home from tournament
Several youth baseball teams from New Jersey are backing out of a national tournament over a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
The Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament, which brings in teams from around the country for summer tournaments to their facility in Cooperstown, New York, is requiring all participants, coaches and campers as young as 12 to show proof of all immunizations including the COVID-19 vaccination, even though no vaccine has yet been approved for their use.
Only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use by teens age 16 and over. The company has applied to the FDA for approval by those 12 and older.
The rule will prevent participants from playing until the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for their use by young teens. The tournament said it will, if necessary, "modify registration date by registration date until a vaccine is available for 12 year olds and older."
Camp participants under 12 years of age are exempt but must provide a negative test upon arrival.
Registered visiting family members will also be required to provide proof of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to watch games.
"Our plan is the only responsible course of action at this time to prevent the possibility of a camp shutdown and displacement of families due to COVID-19. This will ensure the necessary key elements of family participation, camper interaction and safe visits to the Cooperstown area," the tournament said in a statement.
New Jersey 101.5 know of at least three teams that are seeking to get their money back.
South Brunswick Vikings 12U parent Lori Angermeier told New Jersey 101.5 the team was notified of the policy after making its final payment of $20,000 for 11 players and four coaches to participate from July 10-17. She said Cooperstown Dreams agreed to return $15,000 after parents of half the team said they will not have their children vaccinated just to play in a baseball tournament.
"Who are they to force us to vaccinate our children to play in a tournament? And I shouldn't have to be forced to do that to go into a stadium," Angermeier said, adding that her own children are fully vaccinated for other required vaccines.
"What they basically did was they took our money and then they put out a statement Thursday," Angermeier said, adding that there had been no mention of the policy being implemented.
"When it happened it was a punch to the gut for sure. We've been looking forward to this trip for a long time," assistant coach Doug Fitzgerald told New Jersey 101.5.
The team was told about the requirement on April 8 and given a deadline of April 15 to decide if they were still coming. Fitzgerald thinks the requirement is "silly" and that a choice over the vaccine still exists.
"Not everyone is going to be vaccinated. It's still America and we still have choices here. I get what they're trying to accomplish but to think that's going to happen and to give us a week's notice to decide if we want to play and the possibility of a vaccine will be available or not play and just drop out that's the part that gets to me the most," Fitzgerald said.
He said that even with members of the team having to endure one more change because of the pandemic, kids have again proven to be very resilient.
"They're able to bounce back pretty quickly. We had practice on Saturday and no one was really talking about it. I didn't really want to bring it up to the kids because I'm sure they discussed it enough with their own parents but even my own child she was a little upset in the beginning but I told her we were looking at different options and she said 'all right.'"
Because many of the parents have already taken the time off from work they're looking at the Ripken Experience tournament in Aberdeen, Maryland, and tournaments in Delaware and Myrtle Beach, Florida.
Charlie Frazier, of Toms River, whose Frazier Baseball offers youth training and runs tournaments, has a son playing for the Gaslight Gorillas, which had been set to go to the Cooperstown tournament.
"We had a team meeting and maybe half the team said no they're not getting their kids vaccinated. From there we had to shut down the tournament. They get their fee for the down payment but after that they're returning all the money," Frazier said.
Frazier suspects that the Cooperstown tournament could have been worried about the players sleeping together in dorms, which he said is part of the experience of participating in the tournament. Beyond that, he's on the fence about why the policy would be implemented and said it puts a lot of pressure on parents.
"The No. 1 thing is we have to keep everyone safe and protected but No. 2, there is no rule or law from the CDC, so I don't see how it's possible to get all these kids vaccinated at this time. It's confusing to me," Frazier said.
Frazier's brother Todd Frazier played with the Toms River East team that won the Little League World Series in 1998. He is currently playing in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system.
Little League International has not made any decision or established guidelines for its tournaments that will lead to play in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, according to spokesman Keith Fountain.
The Cooperstown and Ripken Experience tournaments did not respond to emails and phone calls from New Jersey 101.5 for further comment.