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Packers look for light

The Smithfield Packers Youth Sports program is looking for community support to help illuminate opportunities for local athletes.

Nearly 100 athletes are preparing for a delayed season due to COVID-19. They need to practice on lit fields, but due to the pandemic, the program’s normal fields at Smithfield High School, which are also unlit, are not available. The only option at this time is Nike Park.

It costs $130 a night to rent Nike Park’s two softball fields for the football teams and an additional $15 a night for the program’s cheerleaders to use the recreation hall. With an expected practice schedule of five days a week for each program over three weeks, the organization expects to spend $2,175. That estimate is based on the Peninsula Youth Football and Cheerleading Organization’s schedule for return to play.

If there were no coronavirus pandemic, “Our teams normally practice at the Smithfield High School practice fields beginning on the first of August, five days a week until school starts, with games starting after Labor Day,” said Sean Kelly, treasurer of Packers Youth Sports.

“We have had just over 20 refunds requested due to the pandemic and schedule delay (with our season preparing to take shape in March we expect this number to increase),” Kelly said in an email. “Since the fields at Smithfield High School are unavailable, football and cheer have been practicing at the Luter Sports Complex and Nike Park (post time-change). In lieu of our normal August to October season we just completed a four-week 7v7 practice and tournament (with a total of 81 attendees across seven teams).”

The organization has secured a small grant for field lights at Luter Sports Complex, but installation probably won’t take place until 2024 due to budget constraints. In the interim, the organization is soliciting donations to offset the cost of field and facility rental at Nike Park.

“A total of 97 student-athletes have registered (20 cheerleaders and 77 football) for the season, and it was the quickest registration we have had in some years (not counting a normal influx of 20-plus early August registrations). We are set to exceed the number of athletes from our 2019 season,” said Kelly.

The organization is preparing 10 teams — five football and five cheer — this season. Approximately 60 volunteers support the program, including team parents, staff, board members, and other volunteers.

Beyond the light initiative, Kelly said the organization is looking forward to its inaugural season with the Peninsula Youth Football and Cheer Organization, starting in March, which will bring new rivalries to Smithfield Youth Sports.

And, he added, “we are always looking for local business and community support to help our mission of keeping our student-athletes academically and physically fit. All support is used to sponsor lower income and high-risk kids and to replenish football equipment, cheer uniforms, referee fees, facility use, and pay liability insurance fees.”
To learn more or contribute to the light program, visit lights.smithfieldpackers.org.