Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) - After a sometimes tearful appeal for assistance from Lexington County Blowfish owners Bill and Vicki Shanahan at Tuesday afternoon’s county council meeting, the Lexington County Council and SC State Senator Katrina Shealy stood shoulder to shoulder with Bill and Vicky Shanahan to proclaim to SC Governor Henry McMaster that it was time for the Blowfish to play ball! Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the council voted unanimously supporting the Lexington County Blowfish's reopening their doors on Wednesday when the Blowfish host the Lake Murray Purple Martins.
Originally, the Lexington County Blowfish have been categorized as an Amateur Youth Sports Team that played on a field owned by a local sports authority. On May 22, 2020, Governor McMaster issued an Executive Order that rescinded parts of a prior order. That late May, 2020 Executive Order would allow these Youth Sports Activities to resume with an audience in attendance provided they had a safety plan in place and met all safety requirements. The governor’s order also left the decision on playing up to the local recreational authority and local government. In the case of the Lexington County Blowfish, that would be the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission and the Lexington County Council. Both of those bodies wholeheartedly support the Blowfish’s season startup and their COVID-19 Safety Plan. Shanahan said that on July 1st when the Opening Night was scheduled and the first game was to be played, the Blowfish were prepared and ready for the games to begin.
Before the July 1st planned opening day of the Blowfish’s 2020 season, the owners and staff of the club worked tirelessly to develop a detailed safety plan to deal with the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. That plan was designed to include the recommended safety procedures of the CDC, DHEC, and the reopening plan of the governor’s own accelerateSC Task Force. The Blowfish’s safety plan would make the ballpark’s environment at the Lexington County Baseball Stadium as safe for spectators as humanly possible so that their season could begin. Then, on opening day, just two-hours before the game was to start, the Blowfish’s management received word that it had been decided that the team and therefore the team’s games had been erroneously classified by state government. The newly decided and supposedly correct classification would cause all Blowfish games to be cancelled! As fans began to stream toward the stadium, they were met by Blowfish staff that told them it had been decided by the state that the game could not be played.
Bill Shanahan addressed the county council and told them, “The future of the Blowfish Amateur Baseball Club is at stake!” Shanahan pointed out that the Blowfish was not just a sports team, they were also a small family owned business. Like most small businesses across the nation and state, the shutdown forced by the pandemic has had them teetering on the brink of financial disaster. This inappropriate classification of the Blowfish by the state as anything other than a Youth Amateur Athletic Club could be the last nail in the Blowfish’s business coffin, and the business aspect of the club is as necessary as to the team as the balls and bats used on the field each game.
Again, part of the accelerateSC Task Force’s plan for a safe restart of the state and its businesses like the Blowfish was that each entity establish proper safety procedures to keep the public and the players safe. Shanahan pointed out again that this had been done. In the case of the Lexington County Baseball Stadium, due to social distancing, the stadium’s capacity for spectators had been reduced from its normal 2400 seats to a mere 800. That was just one third of the stadium’s capacity. Everything the state’s task force recommended had been included and was in place at the stadium and still the Blowfish were not being allowed to play ball.
Many times during his presentation to council, Shanahan pointed out that the Blowfish was a Youth Amateur Sports Activity. The team is made up of college students that are between 18-20 years of age. They play in a league with teams of the same makeup. Shanahan said that across SC, and as close to the Blowfish’s home stadium as Richland County, teams just like the Blowfish were being allowed to play ball. He said that the way this classification system has worked against the Blowfish, “Is not being played on a level playing field.”
The Shanahans received overwhelming encouragement from each member of the council. Councilmember Larry Brigham, a Blowfish season ticket holder himself, said he was utterly disappointed when he arrived at the stadium on opening night and was turned away instead of being allowed to see the ball game.
Councilmember Darrell Hudson said as a small business owner himself, he knew full well the hardships this pandemic has placed on small businesses. He showed his unwavering support as well.
In the end it was clear that the Lexington County Council, and State Senator Katrina Shealy, were all in agreement that Governor McMaster and his team must reconsider the way the Blowfish were classified. Following those many words of encouragement, the council voted and it was decided that the Blowfish could indeed begin their season.