Area ADs Favor Modifications to Allow Sports to ContinueSep 28, 2020 10:43AM ● By Ken Hamwey
The area’s high school athletic directors were busy lining up their sports menus after the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) issued their fall guidelines, risk categories and levels of play.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of all interscholastic sports last spring but approval to move forward with athletics for the fall came on Aug. 18, enabling ADs, superintendents and their school committees to proceed with caution. Sports for the fall that are in a lower and moderate risk category can compete with modifications, but football, competitive cheerleading and unified basketball are classified as high risk. Those teams can play in a “fall 2 season’’ that would run from Feb. 22 to April 25.
Matt Baker, Holliston Athletic Director.
Chuck Grant, Millis Athletic Director.
Several area ADs revealed their plans to proceed for a fall season that will feature plenty of changes and modifications.
At Millis, there’ll be boys and girls varsity and jayvee soccer, boys/girls varsity cross-country and varsity and jayvee golf.
“We’re elated to be taking the next step towards normalcy,’’ said Chuck Grant, the Mohawks AD. “Everyone needs sports back into their routine. The kids are ready to compete within the guidelines. Many things had to come together for these opportunities to become reality and we appreciate all the effort that went into gaining their approval.’’
For Millis, the fall 2 season will include football and volleyball. “Things will need to continue to improve for both to become reality,’’ Grant said. “If we have a basketball season, that will be a good omen for volleyball. It just made sense to buy more time for an inside event to be given a chance for circumstances to improve before bringing other ‘cohorts’ into each others’ buildings at a time when we’re trying to bring our own students back into the building.’’
Grant said that “since football is being played in other states, that will provide us with much needed guidance and evidence of the likelihood that football will be approved for competition in Massachusetts. The numbers are improving every day so the continuation of that trend in concert with encouraging national news would bode well for football’s chances.’’
At Franklin High, the athletic offerings for each of the four seasons include: fall — boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country, field hockey and golf; winter — boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, wrestling, gymnastics, boys and girls indoor track, cheerleading and boys and girls swimming; fall 2 — football, cheerleading, unified basketball and volleyball; spring —tate Guidelines
The EEA and DESE guidance classified sports into three categories — Lower Risk, Moderate Risk and Higher Risk. For the fall, Lower Risk sports include golf and cross country. Moderate Risk fall sports are volleyball, field hockey, and soccer. Higher Risk fall sports are football, competitive cheerleading and unified basketball.
Moderate Risk sports are listed as: “sports or activities that involve intermittent close proximity or limited, incidental physical contact between participants.”Higher Risk sports are listed as: “sports or activities for which there is a requirement or a substantial likelihood of routine close and/or sustained proximity or deliberate physical contact between participants and a high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.”
The guidance lists four levels of play. Level 1 is individual or socially distanced activities; Level 2 is competitive practices; Level 3 is games; and Level 4 is tournaments.
Lower Risk sports get the green light to participate in all four levels. That enables golf and cross country to compete. Moderate and High Risk sports can participate only in Level 1, which translates to no practices, games or tournaments.
For soccer, field hockey, and volleyball to practice, the following requirements are a must: Training activities must be performed in groups of 10 or less. These same groups must be used for every training session or class. Boundaries must be marked so that those groups remain at least 14 feet apart. No more than 25 people can be on a playing surface at once. Groups can only compete against each other if they remain separate and no contact occurs.
For soccer, field hockey, and volleyball to compete in games, two criteria must be followed. First, deliberate close contact must be eliminated. Deliberate close contact includes but is not limited to collisions, body checking, tackling, blocking, and racing/riding in packs. Second, minimize intermittent contact. Game situations that result in intermittent, close physical or face-to-face contact must be modified or eliminated, including restarts, faceoffs, throw-ins, scrums for the ball/puck, or similar activities. These activities may be allowed if face masks are used during contact.
Facts & Figures
Here are some facts and dates that shed some light on how interscholastic sports will look going forward:
• The floating season (Fall 2) will run from Feb. 22 to April 25 and will include football, competitive cheerleading, unified basketball and any other sports that don’t take place in an earlier season, for whatever reason.
• The fall season, which got underway with practices on Sept. 18, will end on Nov. 20. Winter sports get underway on Nov. 30 and conclude on Feb. 21, while spring sports will start on April 26 and continue until July 3.
• MIAA post-season tournaments have been canceled for the fall. Various leagues, however, can conduct their own playoffs but must abide by DESE/EEA guidelines.
• Student-athletes can compete in all four seasons.
• Massachusetts is the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to push high school football off the fall sports menu.baseball, softball, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls tennis, and boys and girls unified track.
Here’s how the Panthers’ AD, Tom Angelo, viewed the modifications:
“Clearly, the rules of the game will be very different from what we’re used to. Although these new rules are not very popular, they are in place so our student-athletes can again participate in interscholastic athletics. That said, everything is now different due to the pandemic. Why would athletics be excluded? Our teams will simply have to learn the new rules, make the necessary adjustments, play to the best of their ability, and represent our community with the same Franklin pride as they have done in the past.’’
Matt Baker, Holliston High’s AD, listed all the sports that are slated for all four seasons. Fall 1 will include cross-country (boys and girls), field hockey, golf, and soccer (boys and girls). Winter’s offerings are basketball (boys and girls), cheer, gymnastics, ice hockey (boys and girls), indoor track, swimming and diving, and wrestling. The fall 2 lineup features cheer, football, unified basketball and volleyball. The spring menu includes baseball, lacrosse (boys and girls), softball, tennis (boys and girls), track and ultimate frisbee.
Baker said that he supports the decision by the MIAA to move higher risk sports to fall 2. “We feel this will create a safer environment for these sports (cheer, football, unified basketball and volleyball),’’ he noted. “We’ll revisit what’s happening with COVID-19 throughout the school year. The Tri Valley League has taken the additional step of moving volleyball to fall 2. This was done in an effort to maintain safety for our students. Also, many schools do not have use of their gyms for athletics due to COVID-19 protocols using the gym for other purposes.’’
Baker endorses the alterations that will allow athletics to continue.
“We know these modifications are changing sports dramatically but at least this is creating a situation where we can offer student-athletes the opportunity to play sports during the pandemic,’’ he emphasized. “This is better than not having fall sports at all. Our coaching staff is looking forward to being with their teams and to compete. These types of activities are so important for the social/emotional well-being of our student-athletes and everyone is trying to be creative in the solutions to make this happen.’’
King Philip Regional will have soccer, field hockey, cross-country and golf on the athletic menu this fall but volleyball, football, cheerleading and unified basketball will be played in the fall 2 season.
“We’ve focused on the fall season and worked to get that squared away,’’ said KP AD Gary Brown. “As for moving some of the higher risk sports to fall 2, it’ll give kids the best opportunity for the best experience. As we get closer to the fall 2 season (starts Feb. 22), we’ll be awaiting the decisions on those sports.’’
Brown is acutely aware that sports will not look like they did in the past with all the modifications the MIAA and the Department of Education have mandated but he’s glad there’ll be an opportunity for student-athletes to compete.
“The changes will allow students to compete safely and that’s the goal,’’ he said. “It’s a different approach. It’s all about providing opportunity. It’ll be great to get moving again. Great to see all students getting involved with whatever their extra-curricula activity is. For me, it’ll be rewarding to see kids actively competing and representing KP or whatever school they play for.’’
Brown stressed that “the bottom line is the health and safety of everyone.’’
At Natick High, the fall season will feature boys and girls cross-country, field hockey, boys and girls soccer, golf and girls swimming and diving. The fall 2 season will include girls volleyball, football, cheerleading and unified basketball.
Natick’s Athletic Director, Tim Collins, is pleased sports are returning after a dormant spring.
“I’m thrilled athletics will be played this fall,’’ he said. “All of us at Natick High want the chance to compete, hopefully be healthy and face competitive challenges with teammates and coaches. Any opportunity to play in spite of whatever modifications are imposed is a blessing.’’
Collins said that “the players are ready, the coaches are ready, and the community needs it.’’
Because Framingham High will not be playing any sports this fall, the Redhawks fall teams will be in a Carey Division that includes Wellesley, Needham, Newton-North and Brookline.