ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB)–The Orchard Park Starz 13 and under girls travel softball team is currently involved in a 4th of July tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
Not only are they in one of the states included in New York’s travel advisory, they’re also playing teams from other hotspot states, like Texas.
Michelle Poitras, director of OP Starz Travel Softball, says as of Thursday, the team has been removed from the Starz organization and Orchard Park Little League. Coach Tony Farina, who returned New 4’s inquiry, says he is playing in their tournament under his own Starz Premier Incorporates, with the team name “Starz Premier 06” and had been planning on making the team independent from Orchard Park anyway.
Farina says he, the players, and the parents all discussed attending the tournament ahead of time, and those who felt more comfortable staying home did so. Farina says the team had already landed in Tennessee earlier this week, hours before it was added to the travel advisory list.
“We were already here,” he said. “We had a couple of parents that were actually on the team that hadn’t left yet that stayed home, but the players that were already here, what was I going to do at that point? We were going to have to quarantine anyway.”
Although people aren’t prohibited from going to these states like Tennessee, they are required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return, and Farina says upon their return, they will do so and cancel any games currently scheduled that would fall within the 14 day window. He said he’s already withdrawn the team from an upcoming tournament in Amherst.
The tournament his team is currently at goes through at least Saturday, July 4th.
The OP Starz organization falls under Orchard Park Little league.
Ted Phalon, who’s president of the little league, shared the following statement with News 4:
“As an organization we have distributed the NY state “INTERIM GUIDANCE FOR SPORTS AND RECREATION DURING THE COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY” to each travel team and they were advised not to participate in tournaments outside of our area. These teams operate as individual entities and any team’s decision to compete outside the WNY region was done independent of OPLL. We do not condone this team’s decision to travel and we will continue to investigate this incident. When this team returns from Tennessee they will be expected to quarantine for 14 days per NY states COVID travel advisory.”
Farina says he’s trying to do his best by the players he knows hope to play in college. He says he’s taken out his own insurance policy to make sure the team stays protected.
“This has been a really tough, tough time for everyone, and we’re trying to do what’s right for the girls, for team,” Farina said.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says her department is aware of the situation and hopes the team will self-report themselves on the county website so health department workers can contact them and track their quarantine.
“Even though Tennessee may not have been on the list at the time they decided to leave, the ban on participating in any type of travel related tournament was in place,” Dr. Burstein said.
Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.