Coronavirus throws Linthicum youth sports a curve ball

Ray Fox has been the white-maned, friendly and fast-talking president of the Linthicum-Ferndale Youth Athletic Association (LFYAA) for three decades. Wednesday March 11, 2020 everything changed. “Last Wednesday, I went to a soccer practice for my granddaughter,” he recalled. “You know, we're talking, everything was fine. And then when I got home, the NBA shut down. The (professional) hockey league is shut down. March Madness is gone. Blah, blah, blah, And everything has just kind of been on a fast moving roller coaster since then. I'm just trying to hold on the best I can.” Like many Americans, the 69-year-old Ferndale resident seemed to still be a little overwhelmed by the recent changes the virus has caused. The carefully planned and hoped for seasons of 600 child baseball players a couple hundred soccer players, and 25 cricket players had vanished in the space of hours. Fox sent a blanket email to 3500 parents, coaches, players and fans on Friday, March 13. In it he explained the county had suspended all youth recreational activities. Though the blow came suddenly, Fox and the board of the association hold out some hope there yet may be abbreviated seasons in the future. “We have every intention of playing at least an abbreviated season that we may not start until, you know, May or June, but play through July. That's kind of our intention today.” Over the years it has been an association goal to open to incorporating new sports options for area kids at the suggestion of parents and supporters. That is how the cricket teams came about and also why wrestling was considered for a short period. But the safety of children, parents, coaches and fans comes first. In the end Fox had no choice but to suspend the season. For some area residents of the March 13 email blast, that didn’t seem to register. “They waited about two days and Monday. I started getting them (emails) saying, something to the effect of ‘I haven't heard anything, When are we going to get out in the fields? What's going to happen?’ I sent it out so the majority of the people would realize that this is not my call.” This isn’t the first time the president of the association has faced sudden changes in his life’s trajectory. Decades ago when his sons were just five, seven and nine years old Fox suddenly found himself a single dad. He saw sports as a possible ally in his struggle to raise them/ “I was so concerned that I saw other kids in my neighborhood, Ferndale. I still live in the same place. They went astray because their parents didn't take them to something a couple times a week. Those same very kids that were my kids age, ended up in jail and on drugs and all that kind of stuff. I could see it coming, basically, you know. We’d feel bad because we're out here at 1030 at night finishing up a game, you know, and we come home and these kids are just standing out on the street corners.” Fox said his boys were already in sports so he did his best to keep them playing. He also worked to help them learn how to be somewhat self-reliant and take care of one another. The good sports did for his children was apparent to him. “I convinced myself that, you know, if God will get me through this, raising my three kids I'm going to give back,” he said. “And the way that I thought to give back is just to keep an organization like this in existence.” As best as he can recall Fox began coaching for the LFYAA in 1981 and then became president of the organization in 1990. But the association goes back well before him. Foundations of the LFYAA go back to 1954, when local residents created a ball field out of land near the junction of Dorsey and Annapolis roads. They moved to the current facility and fields in 1972, at Andover Park in Linthicum Heights. According to Fox, old-timers familiar with the area said it had been an old apple orchard. The park comprises a handful of acres where the association maintains six baseball fields that sometimes double as soccer fields. The main building includes a concession stand on the first floor and meeting room on the second. The many rec teams which can be comprised of young people from four to 22 years old meet to play at both Andover Park and nearby school facilities. Volunteers are key to the LFYAA. Finding enough can be a real challenge, especially since the number of sports facilities in the area have grown over the years. “When my kids were growing up, volunteerism was big,” he said. “I could always find people out here helping to volunteer to clean up the park, empty the trash cans, all that kind of stuff. Now parents don't want to do that.” Even though volunteers may have lagged Fox is pushing forward with passion. Even today, during the emergency, he spends long hours trying to do what he can for the community, to keep that commitment he made long ago. “I don't mind dealing with this,” he said. “I mean, I'm on this computer now from early in the morning until really late in the evening, totally exhausted, with my guys emailing back and forth. I'm on the phone, talking to them trying to get some opinions on what we're going to do.” One of the heavier challenges the association might be facing is what to do with all the registration fees that have come in for seasons that haven’t happened yet. They want to be transparent and are weighing options. They are faced with the challenge of being both fair to parents and fair to the LFYAA which already may have had some expenses for the seasons that were planned to start in early spring. No matter the headaches and hard work it takes to help lead the association, Fox continues to find it all worth it. As an almost-70-year old, he knows he may be at higher risk of the coronavirus, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing what he can for the organization and his neighbors. When asked what motivated him, Fox recognized the dedication it took to devote so much of his time over so many years to one particular cause. But then he quickly drifted towards expressing how grateful he was to have successfully raised three sons, and how the LFYAA helped him do that. “I was lucky enough to be able to raise my three sons, you know, with most of my hair still left,” he joked. “I prayed to God every day that I’d be able to.”