How Organizers of Two National Youth Tournaments are Grappling with Uncertainties Amid Pandemic

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

The COVID-19 pandemic now has claimed multiple national youth tournaments among the bowling events that have had to be cancelled in response to the health concern and economic uncertainties the virus has brought about, including, most prominently, the 2020 Junior Gold Championships and the 2020 Intercollegiate Team and Singles Championships. Also cancelled along with Junior Gold per USBC’s April 16 announcement were the USA Bowling National Championships, the Youth Open, and the Survivor tournament.

But there are two national youth bowling events the pandemic is yet to claim: Mike Nyitray’s U.S. High School Bowling National Championship and Gary Beck’s Teen Masters. Those events have been rescheduled, with Nyitray and Beck both hopeful and realistic about the chances their tournaments will proceed.

Nyitray, President of the U.S. High School Bowling Foundation, said that last week’s decision to cancel the 2020 Junior Gold Championships had “not at all” changed his own thinking about whether to proceed with the U.S. High School Bowling National Championship. “We have considered numerous scenarios, including whether Junior Gold were to be cancelled.”

Nyitray says the very fact that the selection of events available for youth bowlers to compete in continues to dwindle due to the pandemic is motivating him to “do everything possible to run our event … I believe it’s worth fighting for the high school bowlers, especially seniors, for them to have a true season-ending event.”

Nyitray’s decision to reschedule the 2020 U.S. High School Bowling National Championship, which was set to be held June 20-22 at Western Bowl in Cincinnati, Ohio, but now will be held July 25-27 at Poelking Lanes South in Dayton, Ohio, largely was informed by a survey Nyitray sent out to coaches who had teams entered into the event as of April 10. The survey asked for respondents to answer “Yes” or “No” to the following question: “Would you be open to rescheduling to July 25-27?”

Amid cancellations of multiple national youth bowling tournaments due to COVID-19, U.S. High School Bowling National Championship tournament director Mike Nyitray said, "I believe it’s worth fighting for the high school bowlers, especially seniors, for them to have a true season-ending event.”

Nyitray reported in a subsequent email on April 14 that the overwhelming response was “Yes” — by a vote of 28-3.

Nyitray said the reason the tournament was relocated to a different city in addition to getting new dates was that, “Because of a music festival taking place in Cincinnati on the same July weekend of our reschedule, we were unable to guarantee any hotel rooms for less than $200 per night,” and that was presuming “we could even find available rooms.”

An April 17 statement on the website for that music festival, the Cincinnati Music Festival (or CMF2020) stipulates that the event “is proceeding as planned … However, because our event is 3 months away, things could change between now and the end of July” — a caveat that exemplifies just how fluid a situation the pandemic remains for organizers of any event at which people will gather, bowling tournaments among them.

In an April 8 email announcing new dates for the Teen Masters, set to take place at AMF Shrader Lanes in Richmond, Va., Beck wrote that, “Though I am still hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic will begin to subside in the coming weeks, I am compelled to take whatever steps I can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the families who will participate. While acknowledging that the change will have a positive impact on some and a negative impact on others, it is for the greater good [that] the 2020 Championships are being delayed five weeks to August 2nd – 7th.”

Beck’s thinking also was guided in part by a survey of participants. His survey asked whether those planning to bowl the 2020 teen Masters planed to fly or drive, whether those planning to fly already had purchased airfare, when participants’ fall semesters started, and whether any would have scheduling conflicts preventing them from bowling the event should it be rescheduled for Aug. 2-7. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated they planned to drive to the event. Only 13 percent of those planning to fly already had purchased their tickets, and less than a fourth of those responding to the survey indicated that Aug. 2-7 would create a scheduling conflict for them.

In addition to the survey results, Beck indicated other considerations that influenced his decision to delay the Teen Masters by five weeks rather than cancelling were that the later dates “allow for over 100 days for the status of the pandemic to unfold,” that “competition squads are spaced five hours, allowing us to control the number of people in the center at a given time,” and that “Richmond is within reasonable driving distance for 80% of the population.

“At this point, my biggest challenge has been rebooking our hotel blocks as so many hotel employees have been furloughed,” Beck added. “The good news is that I’ve been able to re-contract eight of our hotels.”

For Nyitray and Beck both, the big difference between their events and Junior Gold is one of scale. While Junior Gold involves thousands of athletes spread across multiple bowling centers within a host city, Nyitray and Beck’s events involve far fewer participants competing in a single center.

“We will continue to be in a single location with approximately 300-400 bowlers this year,” Nyitray said. “With all of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, most notably lack of testing and the multi-day non-symptomatic contagiousness, [as well as the] majority of attendees flying into Vegas, I think the USBC made the best decision in cancelling Junior Gold.”

Beck said that none of the three squads at the Teen Masters will hold more than 120 bowlers and that, like Nyitray’s event, the tournament requires just one bowling center to host.

Teen Masters tournament director Gary Beck (with 2018 champions Tom Hankey Jr., Brandon Bohn, Jenna Williams and Jillian Martin, l-r.), cited an ability to limit participation in his event and limit the number of people within the host center at a given time as reasons to be hopeful his event will be able to proceed.

Nyitray acknowledges that against the backdrop of a pandemic, his own event in no way is immune to uncertainty.

“We WILL hold the ’20 National Championship as long as the bowling center is open for business,” Nyitray said in an email to attending coaches. In a subsequent email exchange with BJI, Nyitray said, “There are way too many uncertainties influencing the closure of non-essential businesses, like bowling centers. That is why we have taken the position that if the bowling center is open for business, we will run the ’20 National Championship, regardless of entries.”

Nyitray said those wanting refunds will get them, “even last-minute withdrawals. We have always provided 100% entry-fee refunds, no questions asked.”

Nyitray added that one prevailing fact he has contemplated in deciding to reschedule his event is that, “We can always cancel, but we can’t uncancel. There are no more reschedule options as we don’t believe it appropriate to host any National Championship after the start of the school year. We don’t have a hard date for possible cancellation, but it will not be any earlier than early July.”

Beck struck a hopeful tone with regard to the pandemic and its impact on bowling.

“It will get better,” he said. “It’s a question of how quickly.”

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