May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Ryan Lemmon Baseball Invitational still on, but lots of challenges due to pandemic

The Great Park Baseball Stadium has been the recent home of the Ryan Lemmon Invitational. (File photo: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

The Ryan Lemmon Invitational Baseball Tournament is still scheduled to be played March 27-31. But if officials get the OK to hold it, it will include less teams and games at designated school sites instead of the Great Park, tournament director Dick Owens said Friday.

The championship game of the long-running high school tournament would still be held on Wednesday, March 31, at 6 p.m. if the tournament goes on as scheduled, Owens said. The tournament is presented by the Ryan Lemmon Foundation, led by Guy Lemmon, president of the foundation, and Owens.

Owens indicated a decision will need to be made soon.

“We keep pushing it back, my guess right now we’re looking probably at the first week of March maybe before we kind of make a final decision,” he said. “I think things are kind of leveling out a little bit so that the teams we have we think are going to stick with it, and then it becomes when do we get to the red tier?

“We keep talking to the county supervisors about it and they’re talking to the county health about what that looks like. Right now, there’s just no timetable. The (coronavius) numbers are good, things are declining so that’s in our favor so we hope within the next two weeks we’ll know what’s going to happen.”

Last year’s tournament, which was scheduled to include 32 teams for the first time, was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But tournament officials were hopeful that a 32-team tournament could be held this year at the Great Park.

Now those plans are uncertain and lots of hurdles remain.

The pandemic continues to have an affect on sports in Orange County and baseball would have to be in the red tier under current guidelines by the California Department of Public Health to be held. CIF officials are hoping baseball can start in March, subject to approval from health officials.

“At this point, we’re still playing,” Owens said in a telephone interview. “We will see what happens. We’ve had nine teams drop out, we’re down to 23; I’m sure there’s going to be one or two that might still drop out.

“Districts are changing their minds daily so I get calls from coaches saying I can’t be in it and then I get a call a couple days later saying, ‘no, the administration decided we can be in it.’

“So, everybody is up in the air, it’s going to be a last minute decision I think on our part to probably pull the thing off. Unfortunately, we can’t do any of it at the Great Park this year except for the championship game mainly because Woodbridge (Pacific Coast League) is the host school and they’re playing their own schedule within their league so all the PCL schools dropped out which means all our volunteers dropped out that we would normally have for the event.

“We’re just going to have to go with a tournament that would be where teams will play at their schools.”

Irvine, Woodbridge, Northwood, Portola and University all had to drop out of the tournament because league play is scheduled, Owens said. Beckman was not scheduled to compete in the tournament.

“As Pacific League coaches we discussed the best opportunity to get our athletes as many games as possible for this year, after missing out on last year’s season,” said Irvine Coach Gabriel Cota.

“Unfortunately, that decision came at a cost in having to back out of the Ryan Lemmon tournament for this year. It’s a tremendous tournament and wonderful organization and we look forward to rejoining the tournament next year if possible.” 

Woodbridge baseball coach Ryan Brucker added:

“It was an extremely difficult decision for Woodbridge as we have a close relationship with the Ryan Lemmon Foundation, and part of the expectation within our program is to help support all their events.

“The tournament is top-notch, and it is something our entire program looks forward to being involved with every year. Dick Owens, Guy Lemmon, and all the members of the foundation do such a fantastic job hosting. I’m not sure too many coaches or parents realize how much time, preparation, and work is involved with coordinating the event, especially from Dick and Guy. There are a handful of people volunteering, who give up a ton of their personal time to make sure the Ryan Lemmon Invitational runs smoothly. It was tough picking up the phone and having to tell Dick Woodbridge would not be able to participate in the tournament this year.

“We expect this to be a one-year absence for WHS Baseball due to the COVID situation. We are looking forward to supporting and participating in the Ryan Lemmon Invitational in 2022 and for many years to come.”  

Losing volunteers and the cost of having the tournament at the Great Park without fans made foundation officials change their plans on having it there.

“Mainly because of the volunteers and the cost to do it out there is extremely high for us,” Owens said.

“I won’t put a dollar amount on it, but it’s very high and to be able to pull a tournament off that we normally would do, so without being able to have fans and being able to charge for a gate, it would prohibit what we could do out there from the foundation standpoint and I would much rather put those dollars into individual schools that need help rather than putting it into an event and not having the money to do other things with.”

The other factor involved is the tier that high school baseball is in. Orange County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier and would have to drop into red unless changes are made.

“We have to get to red for competition,” Owens said. “That’s the other thing that’s up in the air is that we have to wait for the governor to make some decisions on guidelines and then the county has to make their decision to put people in red and once we put people in red, we’re able to have competition.

“We thought we would be fine this year. But so far, it’s not playing that way, but we will see. The main thing is kids to get a season in. We missed it last year, that’s the main thing and our tournaments are nothing in comparison to making sure they get some games in playing somewhere. That’s more important than our tournament.”

Among the teams still in the tournament are Aliso Niguel, Canyon, Calvary Chapel Santa Ana, Mission Viejo, Dana Hills, Yucaipa, Arlington, Notre Dame Sherman Oaks, Centennial Corona, Brea Olinda, Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar.

“I’ve got a schedule in my mind and I’ve put it on paper a little bit,” Owens said. “My main concern is the out of county teams ….. I’m afraid the county teams here are going to say we can’t play anybody out of county. That’s going to be an issue to come on how we do that.”

If the tournament was held, health and safety guidelines would have to be followed.

“If we do have fans, we will have a protocol in place,” Owens said. “We would have to take temperatures and social distance and have kids sit down the line and behind the field where the bullpens are, because we can’t get everybody in that dugout.

“And unfortunately at the Great Park we can’t use the stands for kids to sit in because there is no way for them to get down to the field.”

The pandemic will likely force the cancellation of the Ryan Lemmon Showcase for the second year in a row, Owens added. The tournament has been held for 24 years and features seniors from a number of leagues in Orange County

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do one this year,” he said. “Probably not, because of how late it would have to be. With school lasting and CIF (playoffs) lasting through the middle of June, before the finals are even being played and with club ball going on at the same time, I don’t see how we can get it.

“We’ve talked to different coaches about how do we do it. And we just can’t seem to get a handle on how to try and do it. There are going to be teams playing (in playoffs) and we’re going to try and do a showcase. So a lot of seniors would not be able to play and we might just have to not do it this year again unfortunately. That would be two straight years.”

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com