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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 12/4/2020

Theresa Freed 0:00 The winter season marks the start of some sports and activities but this year in the pandemic things are different. On this episode, hear from Johnson County Park and Recreation District on how safety is a top priority that people take to the court.

Announcer 0:14 Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:28 Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Johnson County Board of County Commissioners sitting as the Board of Public Health recently approved a public health order that requires additional safety measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order of course also pertains to all of Johnson County, including the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, which as you might imagine, had to take a closer look at it sports and activities to ensure compliance with the order and just general safety of those it serves. Here to talk more about that is Shannon Sonnier with JCPRD. Thanks for joining us.

Shannon Sonnier 1:05 Thanks for having me.

Theresa Freed 1:07 All right. Well, first of all, can you just tell us a little bit about your role with the park and recreation district?

Shannon Sonnier 1:14 Sure, Theresa, I'd be happy to. Again, my name is Shannon Sonnier, Johnson County Park Recreation District. I'm the Assistant Superintendent of Recreation. And I oversee the sports, sports facilities and concessions for the district.

Theresa Freed 1:28 So when we think about winter sports and activities, what sorts of things are we talking about here?

Shannon Sonnier 1:34 So we're talking about basketball, volleyball, futsal and indoor soccer, primarily?

Theresa Freed 1:42 What's futsal?

Shannon Sonnier 1:44 We get that question a lot. So futsal is it's basically court soccer, if you will. It's it's a soccer type game played on a basketball court. It's actually really popular in the Kansas City area, they have one of the largest futsal leagues in the country.

Theresa Freed 2:02 I had no idea. All right, good information there. Well, obviously, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and things you know, are always changing. It seems like new guidance, new information is coming out. This has been a challenging year, I'm sure for your department, can you talk a little bit about some of the ways that you've adapted.

Shannon Sonnier 2:23 This has been a challenging year, not just for our department, but just for our whole region and for the whole country. And so I know, everyone's dealing with this to a certain extent, or the other, you know, we shut down our full spring season for all sports, that's typically a very, very busy time in our industry. And so during that time, our senior leadership started meeting every single day via zoom to kind of talk about all the different changes and things happening in the community, and really just trying to find a way to move forward safely with discussion with the appropriate parties. So we've been we've been playing sports, since early June, both indoor and outdoor and so guidance was developed with in conjunction with the state of Kansas, the State Parks and Recreation organization, Kansas Recreation and Parks Association, as well as the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, everything was so new and surreal. In the first few months, it's natural for processes to change and develop as more experience and knowledge is acquired. So we really tried to encourage participants to limit the non necessary parts of the game. So instead of a high five, maybe wave to the other team, try not to share sports equipment, space out on the bench, really try and I think we're kind of creatures of wanting close relationships, and we're really having to try and spread out just to try and keep everybody safe.

Theresa Freed 3:50 And I'm sure that's a huge challenge, because people are so used to doing things a certain way. And especially when you get into competition, you know, you kind of revert back to those, those same habits probably, and I think just about you know, my, my son, and when he plays soccer, it's, it's, it's hard to keep kids spaced out. So how do you guys do that,

Shannon Sonnier 4:12 You know, what we found over time, and it's been a lot of trial and error. You know, we just really tried to educate everybody, you know, and we try to get everyone in the mindset of we're trying to be able to keep playing, we're trying to keep playing safely. And to do that, it's going to require everyone to give some and to kind of get out of their comfort zone and come about it from a different angle. So, you know, I think most people are genuinely trying to do their best and trying to do what they think is right for their family. So that's all we can ask, you know, it's, it's, it's just really required for all of us to work together.

Theresa Freed 4:45 So I know it was a little bit easier during the summer months, you know, when some sports were outdoors, you could space out a little bit you have that air circulation, which certainly helps with lowering the risk of spread of the virus. Now that we're into the winter sports season, what are the changes that you guys are making?

Shannon Sonnier 5:04 Right, so our protocol has developed over time. You know, no one in our lifetimes has had to deal with a pandemic of this nature and tried to play sports during that time. And so over time, we've added mask wearing for folks coming in and out of facilities. You know, that developed over toward the end of the summer, but more recently, with the new Johnson County Health order, we've started requiring masks of those coming into the facility, but also those that are that are playing games. You know, some people really welcome this change and wonder why it took so long. And some folks expressed concern that there may be other health issues with wearing masks while playing. And, you know, we're doing our best to educate everybody. And as well as if someone has a qualifying exemption, then they don't necessarily have to wear a mask playing, we're trying to do our best again, to keep playing going forward. Another change that we added in the last few weeks is we reduced the number of spectators for practice and games. So for our practices, we're asking them that no one comes in for spectators, we're really just trying to limit those numbers. So the kids can still come in and practice. And for games, we're allowing one person to come in to try to really keep those those mass gathering numbers down. So as you can imagine, that requires a lot of compromises dad go in, does mom go in, you know, and so we definitely are sensitive to that. And then the public wanting to, you know, have something brighten their life, which is, which is for a lot of us watching sports. So it's just, it just felt necessary at this time. And again, we're working with the Department of Health and Environment come up with these recommendations.

Theresa Freed 6:52 So I'm glad you mentioned that, too. So what kinds of discussions are you having with the Department of Health and Environment on things to consider?

Shannon Sonnier 7:00 Well as hard as I think my job has been, through all this, I know, theirs has been five times as hard. And they're not only looking at sports, which is, in reality, just a small facet of the different parts of life that's happening in Johnson County, I mean, they're looking at everything they're looking at restaurants they're looking at gatherings of family, you know, we just got through Thanksgiving and such. And so their challenges are immense. And so what we've tried to do is kind of be an extension of them, if there's ways that we can help educate the community, if we can contact folks that need to be contacted to try and keep them safe. And we're all ears we're willing to help. And they'll see a theme through different things I talk about is working together. Because I think really, that's the only way we can go forward to get past all of this.

Theresa Freed 7:51 And can you talk a little bit about how this pandemic has impacted the people you serve? And then also the staff because I'm sure everyone's world has kind of turned upside down right now.

Shannon Sonnier 8:04 It absolutely has, you know, this spring whenever everything grinded to a halt, JCPRD had to furlough a good portion of our staff for over a month. And that was tough. That was tough. You know, and luckily, at the time, there was things in place with the State of Kansas that provided extra funds for those folks, that's that's a hard pill to swallow. And we certainly are mindful of that. You know, we've looked at this every single day, since March in one form or another. And again, we're not unique in that aspect, everyone is having to deal with this. As far as sports, you know, once they cancelled the NCAA tournament, that was a real wake up call for me that told me every possibility was on the table. So in regards to our players and families, they're having to choose many times between not playing a sport they love or playing their sport under different conditions and they're accustomed. Not only is it different and may continue to change as time goes on. So most of the time, it's recommended for grandma and grandpa and other seniors to stay home. And so again, watching you sports have children and grandchildren as a favorite pastime of many. Our hope is to get back to normal as soon as is deemed safe to do so.

Theresa Freed 9:22 And have you seen families sort of like you mentioned adapt to these new circumstances and, and unique ways like are they doing more videos of kids playing sports and things like that to share with others.

Shannon Sonnier 9:38 Well, if this pandemic's taught us anything, it's how to be flexible, and whether people like certain changes or not, or whether they agree with them or not. They've certainly demonstrated creativity in dealing with it. You know, you talked about people recording and streaming that's happening quite a bit. You know, sometimes there's there's someone that's set aside for a whole team that makes sense So that those folks who areunable to are able to see those videos, whether it's Facebook Live or YouTube, I think about the parent sitting in their car at the field houses waiting for the practice to get done, maybe they don't live close. And so it doesn't make sense for them to go anywhere else. I mean that that parent is sacrificing their time to be able to allow their children to play sports. And I think it really speaks to the importance of sports in our community, you know, we really value that role we play for people's emotional, physical, and mental well being,

Theresa Freed 10:33 What kinds of discussions are happening, you know, with coaches, or referees or whatnot, with, with the athletes to keep their spirits up during this time?

Shannon Sonnier 10:43 Mainly, it's just the ability to keep playing. I mean, that's, you know, it's been so close at different times to, you know, not looking like we're gonna be able to play or, you know, something falling through, I think, as long as we're able to keep playing in some form, I think that gives people hope. And I'm not saying that there may not come a day when we have to hit the pause button for a little bit before we get going again, but, you know, just that camaraderie of sports, the ability to get together in some form with friends and make new relationships. I mean, I think that's just very important in people's lives.

Theresa Freed 11:19 You know, it's certainly important to keep perspective that, you know, there's a vaccine on the way and this is hopefully, a temporary issue, and we will get back to normal at some point, what are things that that those you serve can help do to protect the community and slow the spread of the virus?

Shannon Sonnier 11:42 Absolutely, and I know everyone's tired of hearing all the cliche things, but it's honestly it's the best things we can do. You know, if we can spread apart, if we can limit numbers, if we can wear masks, if we're around anyone at all, you know, if you have some sort of symptoms, if you have been exposed, stay home. One game, one practice, two games, it's not worth it, you know, let's let's live to fight another day and get better or you know, just be able to participate under safer and safer circumstances, in terms of the community's well being, I just encourage everyone to be kind and patient with one another, especially those we don't agree with. Everyone's individual situation is different as well as their life experiences that led them to believe what they believe. We're all in this together. And the most effective way to get out of it is to work together.

Theresa Freed 12:35 Just the last thing we know, as you mentioned that the Johnson County Park and Recreation District updated its guidance very recently, in order to comply with the new public health order. Can you talk about where people can find that to get more information?

Shannon Sonnier 12:51 Yeah, it's on our website, jcprd.com or, you know, it's very easy to Google JCPRD sports, and it'll bring you right there. So we post that to make sure everyone's aware of what the expectations are. And another important role as we're talking that we play in the community is we share this guidance with others. So we have a direct line to the health department and talk to them all the time. And so once we get this guidance, we know the health department doesn't have all the time in the world. So we'll we'll talk to other community partners other like-type agencies in the in Johnson County, actually, not only Johnson County, but also the metro and also our state organization. So everyone kind of receives the benefit of the advice and the professional opinions that we receive.

Theresa Freed 13:36 All right, that's great. Are there any other activities or anything that we need to talk about that are being handled a little bit differently because of the pandemic?

Shannon Sonnier 13:46 Well, I can't speak for too many of them. I know golf has played pretty much throughout I think maybe it took a week or two off and there there really hasn't been been much issue there. Now they do sanitize the carts quite frequently, and they do those type of activities. But that that's a sport that lends itself to to keeping distance from one another and such. Different room rentals and shelter rentals have limits on how many folks you can have. And, and so you know, I think it's best that if you're wanting to participate in an activity, do a little bit of research, just so you know what your what what you're going to be looking at for your activity, it seems easier if you know what you're going into than just discovering as you show up. So we have a wealth of activities, and some of them look different. Some of them are online where they weren't online before. And so be creative, try something new 50 plus puts out cooking classes and exercise classes and such all online. And so there has been opportunity through this pandemic for innovation, if you will.

Theresa Freed 14:58 Alright, and I know as always As you guys encourage everyone just stay active even during the winter months, even during a pandemic, there are still ways that people can stay active and engaged.

Shannon Sonnier 15:10 Absolutely, and there's nothing wrong with a cold walk in the park.

Theresa Freed 15:14 Sounds good. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today and we will of course have a link to JCPRD's page where you can get more information about these revisions and modifications so that winter sports can continue.

Announcer 15:29 You just heard JoCo on the Go, join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.