Eric Saxton is waving Grove City graduates home to participate in the 38th annual alumni softball tournament.

"We're still (about a month) out, and we still need to see whether there may be any changes in the guidelines set by the state," Saxton said, "but the plan is to hold a tournament as close to the regular format as possible during the last weekend of July, as scheduled."

The softball tournament is scheduled for July 25 and 26, but social distancing and other requirements Ohio has set for noncontact sports might result in games beginning the evening of July 24, he said.

The state is allowing softball and baseball tournaments to take place, as long as organizers provide a plan showing how they will adhere to guidelines for noncontact sport activities, said Saxton, the tournament's director and a 1987 graduate of Grove City.

"We will need to draw up and submit our plan by July 1, and we're in the process of doing that," he said.

Plans for events must be submitted to and approved by the Ohio Department of Health, Grove City Parks and Recreation director Kim Conrad said.

Assuming Saxton's plan checks all the boxes set by the state, tournament games could be played on the diamonds at Fryer Park, she said.

Each year, tournament games are played not only at Fryer Park, but at Murfin Memorial Fields, which are operated by the Grove City Kids Association, and at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.

"We already have the go-ahead to use the diamonds at Murfin and at (the church), so we're just waiting to get Fryer Park confirmed," Saxton said.

The Responsible Restart Ohio guidelines for noncontact sports require that spectators maintain 6-foot distancing, he said.

It's likely that only family members would be permitted to view each game played during the tournament, Saxton said.

Other mandatory measures for noncontact sports include daily symptom assessments for participants, with anyone experiencing symptoms having to stay home; avoiding high-fives, huddles or other close contact; and sanitizing equipment before, during and after each event.

It's also suggested that participants and spectators avoid congregating in common spaces or parking lots before, during and after events, Saxton said.

"The best practice is to have people enter and exit a venue at separate times to help maintain the 6-foot social distancing," he said.

That likely will mean added time between matchups, which could require games to begin July 24 to accommodate all the teams and games in each of the tournament's six divisions, Saxton said.

"The softball tournament really serves as a reunion for people, a chance to share stories and memories of their time in Grove City," he said. "This year's tournament isn't going to be the same as it usually is, but it's still an important event for the Grove City community."

Teams can access entry information and the entry form at grovecityalumnitournament.com.

The entry fee is $325, but Saxton said he is asking teams to pay an extra $50, with the additional money donated to the Grove City High School baseball team's effort to raise money to install new turf on the high school baseball field.

"The extra fee is not required; it's just something we're asking teams to do," Saxton said.

Entry fees are due by July 17, he said.

Ninety teams representing six decades of Grove City High School graduates participated in the 2019 tournament, Saxton said.

"We had people come last year from as far away as Florida, California and Georgia," he said. "There are people who plan their visits to Grove City around the softball tournament."

The COVID-19 situation could mean fewer people will be willing or able to travel from out of state to Grove City for this year's tournament, Saxton said.

"The feedback I've received is that a lot of people are still looking forward to the tournament," he said. "It's a step back toward a return to normal."

A decision on whether to hold the annual homecoming celebration -- traditionally set Friday night before the tournament in the Town Center -- is pending, Conrad said.

The state's restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people is set to expire June 30, she said.

"We don't know if the governor will let that expire, or whether it will be extended or modified," Conrad said. "If there is some sort of limitation on social gatherings still in place, we wouldn't be able to hold the homecoming event."

The city estimates as many as 6,000 people attend the homecoming each year, she said. The city has arrangements in place for a soundstage and a band to perform at the 2020 homecoming, Conrad said.

"We're still hoping to be able to hold the homecoming this year, but even if it does go forward, it will probably be a little different this year," she said.

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