The first week of practices may not have seemed too exciting, but that didn’t diminish the excitement for a number of young athletes.

After not being able to gather with their teammates for the last three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, young Park Rapids athletes were happy just to be back on the field, in the pool and in the gym as more youth activities began on June 22.

Youth baseball and softball players spent the first week back focusing on the fundamentals. Participants in the Park Rapids Senior Swim and Dive Club eased back into regaining their endurance in the pool. Young gymnasts stayed off the equipment and worked on getting back in shape.

The focus was on getting back to the basics, and those athletes were just happy getting back to playing sports again.

“I think getting these young athletes something to do is huge. There has not been anything for them besides activities they did at home,” said Aaron Morris, director of Park Rapids Youth Baseball. “Plus, they can come hang out with their friends again and play the game of baseball. This will be good for their mental health as these young athletes have been through so much.”

“This is great. Getting back outside and working with the girls is exciting. The girls are extremely eager to be doing anything,” said Josh Cook, who coaches the 12-U girls softball team. “They are ready to be active, be outside, and most importantly, see their friends. This has been a long time for these kids. And now, to be able to participate in their activities and see their friends, they are definitely considering this a win-win.”

The summer youth baseball program is broken into two groups for ages 9-10 and 11-12 at the Century School fields. Morris said 35 players ages 9-10 and 33 players ages 11-12 have signed up. The summer girls softball program is holding practices for 10-U, 12-U, 14-U and varsity players at the Area High School fields.

COVID-19 guidelines will be followed as the players return to the field.

“It will be different as each kid will have their temperature taken and hands sanitized before they can even start. During practice we will follow the social distance guidelines. It is going to be a learning curve for everyone,” said Morris. “We will be focusing on getting these players active and teaching them the fundamentals of the game. We need to get their arms in shape along with their bodies. I am just glad that we can give them something to do.”

“First and foremost, we are practicing and preaching safety and staying healthy. We are working on drills that encourage social distancing and require the girls to stay apart as much as possible. We are also very stocked in hand sanitizer and wipes to keep our equipment clean and safe. The girls are encouraged to follow all guidelines set forth to keep everyone healthy and safe,” said Cook, whose groups practice for 90 minutes twice a week. “On the field through our first couple of practices, we have worked very hard on catching and throwing technique and accuracy, baserunning, hitting drills off of the tee, and hitting our cutoffs on throws from the outfield to second and third base. We have had the chance to take a full infield practice and our pitchers and catchers got some nice work in.”

The youth baseball teams will practice for two weeks and then play games against Park Rapids teams. The baseball and softball teams are hoping to schedule games against other communities in July.

“We will play games, even if it is in house,” said Morris. “Most area towns are staying within their community. Hopefully we can get some games in July. We will see what happens as guidelines change daily.”

“It has been a lot of fun so far, and we are looking forward to continuing our hard work and preparing for the opportunity we hope we get to play some games,”said Cook. “Our hope is that we will be getting some organized scrimmages throughout the month of July. Nothing has been set in stone yet at this point, but all indications are that we have some local towns interested in playing games in July.”

The members of the Park Rapids Senior Swim and Dive Club were also happy returning to the pool.

“It feels so good to be back in the pool. The kids missed it,” said Megan Rykhus, the head coach of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team. “I’m so happy everything is back up and running.”

“It feels great. It’s been a long time,” said Todd Fritze, the head coach of the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team. “The kids wanted to get back in the pool. It feels great to be coaching again.”

Instead of having the whole group training for two hours at a time, this summer the club is broken up into three groups of swimmers in grades 7-12 with a maximum of 12 swimmers per group (two in each lane). The swimmers are working on drills and increasing yardage during their 45-minute sessions four days a week.

“My philosophy is we worry about what we can control,” said Fritze. “Everybody is in the same boat.”

“This is better than nothing. There is no open swim, no swimming lessons and no lap swim this summer. This is all we’re doing right now,” said Rykhus. “This is huge. We’ll take any time in the pool that we can get.”

James Sanchez couldn’t have been happier to be given the OK to start practices for Level 3 and Level 4 gymnasts.

“The kids were chomping at the bit to get back. Within two hours after registration opened, (the classes) were filled up,” said Sanchez. “I haven’t been able to work with the kids over the last three months. They couldn’t wait to get back to work.”

Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Sanchez is not planning on training on the uneven parallel bars, balance beam and vault. Instead, the youth gymnastics coach is focusing on getting the gymnasts back in the condition they were in before the pandemic struck.

“We’re going to take our time,” said Sanchez, who meets with Level 3 gymnasts for three hours one day a week and Level 4 gymnasts for four hours one day a week. “We’re not going to use the equipment much. We’re going to focus on conditioning and getting back in shape. Injury prevention is our No. 1 goal. It’s nice getting back into the swing of things.”