BEMIDJI -- For the first time since its inception in 1974, a Bemidji Area Softball Association season has come to an abrupt end.

The league suspended play for two weeks in early July when several positive coronavirus cases popped up. Then on Friday, July 10, the season shut down for good.

“We did have a couple participants test positive,” said league director David White. “… That’s what we did as a league -- suspend -- and then we were notified this past Friday that the City of Bemidji, who owns the fields we play on, decided that it’s not in the best interest of the community that this activity go on any further. So the season is over.”

Marcia Larson, Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director, said the city’s decision was “based on the community spread concerns issued within the community, and also on conversations with (Beltrami County Health and Human Services),” as well as other recent closures from local businesses.

BASA has 29 total teams across three leagues -- Men’s Monday night, Women’s Tuesday night and Men’s Wednesday night -- and White said the participants who tested positive played on Monday nights, with one of them also playing on Wednesday nights. The BASA Board of Directors met and suspended those two leagues for two weeks, as well as the Tuesday league to cover all three nights, before the official word on cancellation came July 10.

According to the BASA website, the league has informed managers of teams that had direct contact with those who tested positive. Anyone who has not been contacted has not been in direct contact with participants with a confirmed case.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest hurdle that area softball needs to overcome. The city-owned softball fields at the Bemidji City Park have seen participation numbers trending downward, and when it can finally host a return to action, White said the numbers are likely to keep dwindling.

“The adult softball numbers in northern Minnesota continue to go down,” he said. “We have more people retiring or getting out of softball than we have new, younger people getting in… so it’s disappointing to lose out on a season.”

However, White said he’s already starting to look toward next summer.

“My focus has already shifted (to 2021), but we’re at the mercy of renting fields from a different agency,” he said. “They’re at the mercy of the guidelines given to them by the state, and, of course, it all depends on what happens with this virus.”

Like everyone and everything dealing with the rapidly changing pandemic, White is learning to navigate the unknown as best he can.

“You roll with it,” he said. “We’ll get through this, and with the fall season of whatever sports -- high school, youth, adults -- hopefully we can get back on track.”

But even though positivity remains, White and BASA have to grapple with reality, too.

“It’s disappointing,” White said of losing the season. “We’ve been around a long, long time. Our numbers are going down, and trying to keep it afloat is difficult. Then you throw this monkey wrench into it, it makes it harder.”

Bemidji church league reacts similarly

The Bemidji Church Softball League also called off its 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns.

“We just didn’t feel right about trying to push the envelope for the church league,” said league co-director Eric Nelson. “We just made that call and are praying that everyone will make the right decisions and that everything will go OK.”

The 14-team church league decided to close its doors when the cases among the Bemidji Area Softball Association first started popping up. The church league also had “a couple people” on one team contract the virus, Nelson said.

The Bemidji Church Softball League officially canceled its season July 6. Nelson cited Romans 13:1-7 in the decision-making process, reasoning that respect for local authorities played into the ultimate conclusion to cancel.

“You’ve got to respect those in a position of authority over you,” Nelson said. “We just need to respect what they’re doing, because they’re making some really tough decisions that nobody likes, and we don’t need to add onto that right now. That’s kind of where we’re at on it. Obviously we all want to get out and play, but it’s just not to be right now.”