The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

Boys of Summer hold out Hope. !

UNITY, OH.  — From April through July, the Next Level Sports Complex normally features wall-to-wall youth baseball and softball action. This year, it has sat idle as the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out.

“We had tournaments booked clear through the third week in July,” Next Level owner Jim Vance said. “We’ve already canceled everything for April and we’re just going to have to take it month-by-month after that.”

Next Level is a six-field baseball and softball complex that also features an indoor training facility complete with turf and batting cages. It is primarily run by Vance along with his son and brother.

When large-scale statewide shutdowns began occurring in the middle of March, Next Level followed suit.

“Everything is completely shut down right now,” Vance said. “We had the indoor facility booked solid for the rest of March, but we had to scratch everything.”

One of Next Level’s primary sources of income during the spring comes from renting out the complex to the East Palestine High School baseball and softball teams as well as the Heartland Christian baseball team for games and practice. The East Palestine Youth Sports Association and Heartland Christian’s Pony League team also make use of the fields.

During the summer, Vance said travel ball teams frequently use the fields for practice. In addition to Next Level putting on its own youth tournaments on the weekends, Vance said other tournament directors use his complex to host their events.

“On a good weekend we have between 32 and 36 teams here for our tournaments,” Vance said. “A lot of nights four or five of our six fields are in use.”

Like a lot of other parts of the sports industry, Vance said Next Level has taken a considerable financial hit in the past month. All tournaments through at least April 30 have been postponed.

“It isn’t good that’s for sure,” Vance said of the financial situation. For each tournament, we probably pull in $15,000 on registration fees. You multiply that out by the four tournaments we’ve had to cancel and that’s a lot. I also own a landscaping business in Pennsylvania and we’re still an essential business over there, so I’ve been able to stay busy that way.

“There are still costs for regular maintenance. I have 11 full-time employees with my other business and I’ve pulled a few of them to help me maintain the fields while everything is shut down.”

Vance said that all of the tournaments that have been canceled have been given their money back.

“I’ve given them all refunds,” Vance said. “Fortunately, I don’t use that money until the tournaments are over.”

If things resume sometime this summer, Vance is hopeful his facility can hold as many games as possible.

“I’ve had a lot of tournament directors contact me wanting to play games in a round-robin format,” Vance said. “We’re going to do whatever we can.”

That being said, Vance was careful not to get ahead of himself.

“I had been holding out some hope for May, but I’m not so sure about that now,” Vance said. “If major leaguers aren’t going to be able to play, they certainly aren’t going to let kids play. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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