The North Country Bat Busters take on the Stingers in a Can-Am Softball Shootout game in 2014. The tournament began in 2005. Watertown Daily Times

Like in past summers, this year’s Can-Am Softball Shootout was planned to take place on fields across the north country from Cape Vincent to Chaumont to Adams Center and Watertown.

In the past, the event has also been held at venues such as Jefferson Community College and the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds and included teams from all over the state, as well as Pennsylvania and Canada.

But this year’s shootout, scheduled for July 24-26, was canceled last month as another casualty of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were looking to offer something later in the summer that the kids, student athletes, players and officials could enjoy, but in light of everything, we’re going to err on the side of caution,” event co-organizer Mike Lennox said. “And we will do our best to get everything ready for next year and we do plan on doing it next year, it’s a great event and unfortunately this happened, but we’ve got to be safe.”

Yet even with the disappointment of missing the event, which would have included its 15th year as the premier softball tournament in the area, organizers are already looking ahead to next summer.

“It’s certainly a learning experience, it’s not negative, it’s something we’ve got to deal with,” Lennox said. “And more importantly we’ll learn from, and like anything, try and provide an experience that’s safe for our student athletes; and if it can’t be safe, then we’re not going to run our programs, as far as our tournament.”

Once again, this year’s event would have included play in the 10-and-under, 12U, 14U, 16U, 19U and open divisions.

“This would have been our 15th year and we would have had anywhere between 70 and 80 teams again this year, which is pretty much standard for us,” Lennox said.

Lennox considers the event a unique softball tournament in the state, not only because of its venues, but in its placement toward the end of the summer travel league season.

“For the travel teams, this is usually their last weekend of softball, and some of them list this as the most fun tournament,” Lennox said. “And we also make the rules where you can play as many people as you want all through the order, rather than follow strict ASA guidelines. We’ve got things like that, which the coaches really like, so there’s more participation.”

Local squads from the north country match up mostly with teams around New York State.

“Once in a while we get some teams from Ohio as well,” Lennox said. “The Canadian team knew they couldn’t come, the Pennsylvania team knew they couldn’t come, and then we were just waiting to see what the governor was going to do. It just got way too close to the time frame, so if we didn’t have the tournament, we wanted to give them enough time to get everything back to them so they could maybe go to another tournament, but right now it doesn’t look like any tournaments are being offered in New York State at all.”

One change being considered is perhaps adding an extra day to the competition.

“This has given us a different perspective on things, for sure,” Lennox said. “One of the things we’re looking at doing and offering, is beginning the tournament a little bit earlier, not necessarily the time of the year, we might make it a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday tournament, and thus allow more teams to get in, but also giving them more time and opportunity to visit our area.

“With more teams, we can be more creative, so teams can play more games and have a chance to win a another division championship.”

Tournament organizers have already made several changes to the tournament, to address safety concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

These include wiping the ball down after each game, limiting the amount of people in a dugout to three, limiting trips the mound, limiting people coming to home plate to start a game, as well as limiting the number of family members who could attend each game, according to state guidelines.

“A lot of those protocols I think we’re still going to see and some of them I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re taken up by the (New York State) High School Athletic Association as well,” Lennox said. “So I think you’re going to see a lot of similarities to that.”

This includes contingency plans for next year’s tournament if social distancing rules are still in effect.

The Can-Am Softball Shootout dates back to 2005 when it was founded by Lennox and his wife Lisa, a former softball coach at General Brown.

“It was a way to get kids playing softball,” Lennox said. “We didn’t think it would be as big as it was, but softball is still such a growing sport and then to be able to come up to this region was nice, because nothing was offered up this way.

“It was kind of an untapped area to visit softball wise and most teams that play continue to come back every year and usually stay at the same places, and also go whitewater rafting and things lot that.”

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