There will be high school sports this coming school year.
On Wednesday, August 19, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of directors approved a proposed 2020-2021 athletic year for school sports in Massachusetts. The board ratified a list of suggestions submitted by the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force that laid out how athletics will be handled this year.
All of the proposals are contingent on Massachusetts state opening plans not being rolled back.
Mashpee High School Athletic Director and football coach Matthew Triveri said he applauds the work that has been done to get to this point.
“I give the COVID-19 Task Force credit. I think that they did the best that they could for kids,” he said.
The recommendations, which include starting the school sports calendar on September 18, about three weeks later than normal, was presented by task force co-chairmen Thom Holdgate, the athletic director at Duxbury High, and Dr. Keith Crowley, the principal at St. John’s Prep. Their recommendations will change the usual sports calendar from three seasons—fall, winter and spring—into four. A “fall II” season has been added and will be held immediately following the winter season, running from late February through early April. That season will feature the return of football and cheerleading.
In accordance with guidelines that were set by the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, only sports that have been categorized as low or moderate risk by the state will be allowed to compete this fall, which is what necessitated the move of football to later in the year. Moderate-risk sports that will be allowed in the fall are field hockey, soccer, girls’ volleyball and swimming. All those sports will have to modify their games to eliminate “deliberate and intermittent contact.”
The MIAA’s board of directors has tasked the individual sports committees for all of those sports with the responsibility of making the modifications. The recommendations are supposed to be submitted by Tuesday, August 25.
Sandwich Athletic Director Neil Murphy said the Tuesday date will determine a lot.
“The most important thing is that we are waiting for the sports-specific modifications. What is soccer going to look like? There’s a lot still to be determined,” he said. “There is still more information to be had...I like that the board voted for four seasons because of the flexibility it adds.”
Mr. Murphy said the current list of proposed modifications that has been released might necessitate soccer moving to fall II. The proposed rule changes would take away throw-ins, shoulder-to-shoulder contact, tackling and intentional heading of the ball.
“If it doesn’t look and feel like soccer, we might be better off pushing it to fall II and reevaluating,” Mr. Murphy said.
Sports deemed high-risk, including football, cheerleading and unified basketball, are being moved to fall II.
The normal fall season will begin practices on September 18 and will run through November 20. No state tournaments will be held for the fall I season. The winter season will begin November 30 and will run through February 21. Fall II is set to be held from February 22 to April 25, then the spring season will be held from April 26 until July 3, with several weeks added on to the end of the typical sports calendar for this year to allow for complete seasons to be held.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Triveri agreed the return of high school athletics is about a lot more than just games being played. They said student-athletes benefit greatly from being a part of teams, mentally as much as physically.
“The mental health part plays a big part,” Mr. Triveri said. “The contact with coaches and other kids is enormous. It is so underrated what those interactions mean. I don’t think that people understand the toll that this has taken on kids.”
Mr. Murphy agreed.
“The kids can’t have another season of nothing. We all have to get on the same page to make this happen, but this is a step in the right direction to make it happen,” he said.
Mr. Triveri said the many individuals with the titles that he and Mr. Murphy have in their given school districts have a mountain of work ahead of them. Schedules will have to be completely retooled, and there will have to be a lot of imagination used for all of the proposed changes to be implemented and adhered to, they said.
“There’s a ton of work to reshuffle all of the schedules. We have some work to do, but we’re just happy that sports are going to be played,” Mr. Triveri said.