Of all the seasons, the winter sports season has been the most affected by COVID-19 precautions and shutdowns, and the past few weeks have been the worst of the school year so far. Several school systems across the state have shut down their athletic programs for a week or two since Christmas break, and it has wreaked havoc with schedules.
All of the Upper Cape’s team have been affected in some matter over the past few weeks, but this past week Mashpee High School was the most severely hit. An announcement was made on Wednesday, January 5, that all athletic activities, including practices and games, are on hold for one week until January 13.
MHS does not necessarily have an inordinate amount of positive cases that have forced its athletics programs to scramble. A combination of rising numbers, coupled with the Mashpee School District’s rules in regard to dealing with positive cases, have resulted in the first of several postponements this past week and now the full-out pause.
The school district considers a close contact anyone on a team who practices or plays in a game against another person who tests positive. Those who pre-enrolled in the Test and Stay program, or who have been vaccinated, can return to their team after a negative test. If the student-athlete had not already enrolled in the program, they then have to go through the quarantine process and are not eligible to sign up for Test and Stay until the end of that period.
MHS Athletic Director Matt Triveri said Mashpee’s pre-enrollment for Test and Stay was very low. A few student-athletes did test positive during vacation week, which left the majority of the players on the teams counted as close contacts and unable to suit up regardless of their status, because they either had not been vaccinated or had not signed up for the program. The Mashpee school system only counts vaccinations or boosters that occurred during the last six months to qualify for updated vaccination status.
Mashpee had already been dealing with having student-athletes in a holding pattern when Monomoy High School put all of its athletic events on hold until January 10, which touched other Cape schools schedules across the region. Similar to the Mashpee-Monomoy situation, Nauset and several other smaller schools on the Lower Cape are a part of the Cape Cod Furies girls’ hockey cooperative team, which had to be put on break. Barnstable High School was late to start the season and is playing catchup with its games now.
Monomoy’s decision to do a post-holidays pause hampered several local schools. Sandwich High School’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams were slated to play against Monomoy on Tuesday, January 4, but those games have been pushed back. Both teams had their schedules last week manipulated due to restrictions from other towns. The girls’ basketball team was supposed to play a holiday tournament at SHS, but was relegated to playing just one game. The boys did play two games at Bridgewater-Raynham, but the slate had to be tinkered with due to one school dropping out of the tournament entirely. Falmouth High School’s boys’ basketball team had a similar situation arise at the tournament that it played in Rhode Island, with a new opponent being brought in to face the Clippers at the last minute.
“Unfortunately this has kind of become the norm,” Sandwich High AD Neil Murphy said. “That doesn’t make it any easier, though. We’re just doing our best to keep kids moving.”
Murphy said that trying to remain flexible and putting decisions off as long as possible have been the status quo. During the holiday vacation Murphy said that SHS did everything it could to host a full tournament for girls’ basketball before having to change course and just have one game. “We’re just doing everything that we can to keep things afloat,” he said.
Murphy added scrimmages for his teams this week to try to help keep the teams sharp. He said that he understands that coaches and players like to stay in a rhythm during a season, and that playing is the best way for that to happen.
“We have four teams that all could do something come tournament time, and we want them to be able to play,” he said. “We are trying to weather it and hope we come out of it. You just have to deal with it and keep things moving.”
Keeping things moving seems to be a common thread for the local athletic programs, as is pivoting to something different when it makes sense to do so. The Falmouth High School girls’ ice hockey team was originally scheduled to participate in a holiday tournament at Boston Latin last week, but the City of Boston shut down school sports until early January. That left the Clippers to have to tinker with the schedule for the break. The team was able to get one game in over the break, and play a scrimmage as well. The team was supposed to play a game against Nauset, which is in a girls’ coop for hockey with Monomoy, on Wednesday, January 5, but that game will be made up at a later date. The boys’ team had to rework the schedule for last week’s Ray Kenney Classic at the Falmouth Ice Arena because Wellesley High School dropped out.
FHS Athletic Director Kathleen Burke said that she’s happy that the Clippers teams have not had to lose many games. Teams have been hit with individual cases, in which those players had to quarantine for a period of time, but the train has rolled along, she said.
“We’re doing pretty well as long as the other schools are able to play,” she said. “The Test and Stay program has worked well...so far we’re okay, but it does feel like it’s looming, but we are doing our best to keep it on track.”
Burke explained that last year one close contact would have shut down a team. With the Test and Stay program the teams are able to stay on their feet as long as players test negatively. Vaccinated players do not have to be tested.
Bourne High School has not entirely been able to avoid having its schedules tinkered with. The BHS boys’ basketball team played without three players and a coach last week, as the rest of the team was healthy enough to go. Still, the school’s hockey team has had consecutive games this week put on ice for the time being. The Canalmen were supposed to face Apponequet at Gallo Ice Arena on January 2, and then Seekonk on Wednesday. Both games will have to be made up at a later date.
Scott Ashworth, the athletic director and varsity boys’ basketball coach at BHS, came down with COVID shortly before Christmas. He said he is feeling well now, and is happy to be back to work. “I had four days, from December 23 to 27, where it was heavy. That was the first time I’ve ever missed a game in 21 years as a head coach, or six years as the JV coach. This is just a challenge across the board for everyone,” Ashworth said. “Hockey, we haven’t played once since December 23. It hasn’t been our side, but we haven’t been able to get on the ice (due to other teams’ problems). We’re hoping to play Saturday.”
Ashworth said that a worry for hockey will be finding ice time at rinks across the state to make up missed games. “With boys’ and girls’ basketball it’s a little bit easier (to reschedule), because they’re our gyms. With hockey we are at the mercy of the rinks.”
Falmouth Academy’s approach to the holidays prevented its program from having any scheduling issues to deal with, so far. The Mariners played three games before their school break, and then did not have any games on the books again until early January. AD and boys’ basketball coach Henry Stevens said that his team did practice some over vacation, and his team has a slightly scaled back schedule this season, with just 16 games on the slate rather than the normal 18 to 20.