Last Dance tournament brings high school baseball back to New Jersey
The coronavirus brought an abrupt end to the high school sports season this spring, leaving many students feeling as if they had unfinished business.
But for the first time since the pandemic hit, high school baseball will return to New Jersey with the Last Dance tournament.
“We have games going to be played under the Lincoln Tunnel in Secaucus. We have games that are going to be played in Ocean City at the beach - it’s a New Jersey tournament,” says St. Joe’s Metuchen athletic director and baseball coach Mike Murray.
Murray came up with the idea for the tournament in May, but says that he was able to put the plans in motion last month when Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association cleared a path to allow high school sports to return.
“We have to do this within the framework given to us. I didn’t want it to be like a rogue outfit, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this no matter what,’” Murray says. “And as more good information came we were like, ‘Hey, we’re probably going to be able to pull this thing off.’”
The tournament will feature 222 teams from across the state in a three-week bracket-style competition. Each team is guaranteed to play three games and a single champion will be crowned.
The games will be played at nearly 60 host sites including professional venues like Skylands Stadium, Arm and Hammer Park and TD Bank Ballpark.
“It’s getting a lot of kids playing. It’s getting athletic trainers working. It’s getting ballpark staff something to do and a field to take care of,” says Murray.
Murray says that anyone attending must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Teams cannot share equipment and must wear masks and use sanitizer when in the dugout.
“We decided to go the route of having athletic trainers at every site instead of just a coach or personnel taking the temperatures. We’re going to do temperatures and symptoms checks,” says Murray.
Murray says that he hopes that the tournament gives high school players, coaches and parents a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
“I’m excited for people to go watch baseball again because we don’t know what the fall holds. We’re hoping we can make this a good run and make it fun for these kids,” Murray says.
The Last Dance tournament begins on July 14 with the final to be played at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton on July 31.