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Kaneland’s annual spring break trip is one of the highlights of the season for many Knights baseball players. Right now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, coach Brian Aversa is just trying to get his team’s money back.
Kaneland was scheduled to travel to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, for four varsity games and two junior varsity games. The team rented two houses beginning March 30 through VRBO, an online rental service similar to Airbnb. The group included about 20 players and a handful of coaches.
The trip, for obvious reasons, has been canceled. The problem, however, is VRBO is leaving it up to the individual property owners who use its site whether to grant full refunds.
Right now, the Knights have about $6,500 invested in two rental houses that they no longer plan on using, but the property owners are not willing to grant refunds.
“It’s a pretty big chunk of money, especially for a high school baseball team,” Aversa said.
The team had to cancel its pig roast and a poker night fundraisers, which were supposed to help fund the trip. About half of the $6,500 is on Aversa’s personal credit card, “which is not sitting great with me,” he said.
Aversa said he hasn’t canceled the reservations yet, hoping that VRBO will change its policy or that the government might step in and force it to.
According to VRBO’s web page about COVID-19, “Cancellations and refund policies are determined by homeowners and property managers, but the vast majority of them are rising to the occasion and giving credits and/or refunds to travelers in these extreme circumstances.”
That’s not the case for Kaneland baseball.
The Knights are far from the only spring sports team that is dealing with cancellation headaches. Many teams travel for tournaments during spring break, whether it’s one state over or across the country.
In Chicago, Jones College Prep had a trip planned to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Disney World near Orlando, Florida. The Eagles were supposed to be in Florida from April 2 to 7.
Chicago Public Schools canceled all spring break travel. Disney refunded the team for its rooms. The problem is Southwest Airlines is so far refusing to refund the plane tickets.
Southwest is allowing refunds for the average traveler. That apparently is not the case for tickets bought as a group package.
Assistant coach Mike Strok, who organized the trip, said that because Disney World is closed through April 1, and the tournament starts April 2, Southwest is arguing the event still might happen.
“Our travel agent reached out to Southwest,” Strok said. “A couple days went by, I reached out to them and received the same answer that my agent did.”
The Eagles spent about $12,000 on plane tickets for the trip for 28 players, four coaches and five additional chaperones. To fund the trip, players organized a students-against-staff basketball game, a golf outing, as well as a Snap! Raise, which is a service similar to GoFundMe geared toward funding trips for teams.
“We’re in this waiting game right now,” Strok said. “That’s a substantial amount of money for a high school baseball team. My big thing is hoping every day that Disney announces Disney World theme parks will be closed for another week, then we would get the money back.”
Strok added that he feels terrible hoping for something like that, but he doesn’t want his players to lose all that fundraising money.
The baseball season, and all IHSA spring sports, are in limbo right now. Aversa said the Knights were planning to have a group conference call Friday, just to check in.
Strok feels bad for the seniors because most players across the state won’t go on to play in college.
“They’re losing out on their last chance to wear a jersey,” Strok said.
The IHSA hasn’t canceled spring sports outright yet, which at least is something positive to hold onto.
“We’re trying to be optimistic,” Aversa said. “At the same time, we understand. I’m not like, ‘Oh my gosh, we should be out there playing.’ I get it. I have two kids in elementary school. I do not like seeing the stuff with the spring breaks and people not taking it seriously.”