The first hurdle for a winter sports season at the high school level has been cleared for all Massachusetts high schools. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association voted to move forward with winter sports, with modifications, during a meeting last Friday, November 20. Teams across the MIAA in all winter sports will be allowed to begin practicing on December 14, which is two weeks later than normal.
The start date was moved back to account for the Thanksgiving holiday and gatherings that could result in Covid-19 exposure that could be associated with them. With practices for ice hockey, basketball, indoor track and field, swimming and diving, and gymnastics pushed back to mid-December, games are likely to begin during the first week of January and run through the end of February. It was voted that wrestling will not be held at this time, and whether it is held this year remains to be seen. League tournaments could run into the beginning of the Fall II season, which begins the last week of February and runs through early April. Football and cheerleading are scheduled to be held then.
After two weeks of meetings, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and current Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE) guidelines were reviewed. These subcommittees created sport-specific modifications and presented them to the full committees for approval. The MIAA Sports Medicine Committee (SMC) and ultimately the MIAA Covid-19 Task force subsequently approved the modifications.
These modifications will continue to be reviewed as they relate to current regulations surrounding COVID-19 and may be modified if necessary. Additional modifications or the decision to participate in MIAA-recognized winter sports will be determined by local school districts and/or their local board of health.
Locally, most of the school districts on the Upper Cape are leaning toward going forward with sports. Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee and Bourne high schools will all be participating in winter athletics in basketball and ice hockey. Bourne opted out of the Fall 1 season, but posted online recently that students should register for winter athletics. Athletic Director Scott Ashworth confirmed on Tuesday, November 24, that BHS will be playing against the other teams from the South Coast Conference this winter.
Falmouth Academy has not yet made an official decision. Athletic Director Henry Stevens said this week that the school is “strongly considering” playing varsity basketball this winter.
Upper Cape Tech has not yet made a call on whether it will be playing. Several of the schools in its league, the Mayflower, have opted out, which will make scheduling a bit challenging. Athletic Director Ben Rabinovitch said that a decision is still pending for the Rams. “We are still discussing the matter,” he said.
Some cooperative teams have additional issues. The cooperative Falmouth-Mashpee gymnastics team’s season is still up in the air as logistics are worked out. FHS Athletic Director Kathleen Burke said that the concept of participating in virtual meets has been floated, and a decision is pending regarding that. As for the Mashpee-Monomoy boys’ ice hockey team, coach Chris Peterson said that all systems are go for the Monarchs’ program, but the team will be playing at a new home this winter. M-M has moved to play at the Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis this winter. The Hyannis Youth and Community Center has been undergoing repairs on one of its ice rinks, which has left ice time problematic overall there. St. John Paul II High School is also moving to play at Tony Kent, along with the D-Y Dolphins, who have called the rink home for years.
At Sandwich, the swimming and diving team will be doing virtual competitions, with each team swimming in its own pools and comparing scores to determine outcomes. Mashpee AD Matt Triveri said that gymnastics is considered a moderate risk sport and competing in-person is still doable.
Across the board the local schools are excited to be competing this winter, although some of the modifications will certainly take some getting used to.
“Right now we are all poring over what it will look like,” SHS AD Neil Murphy said. “We are all dedicated to making sure that everyone’s safety is the number-one priority.”
Kathleen Burke, Falmouth’s AD, said that all of the Clippers are happy to be moving forward and that now her coaching staff is figuring out exactly how to make things work the way that they’re supposed to.
“We are looking carefully at those (modifications) and seeing what we have to do,” she said. “The schedules all have to be adjusted and there are wrinkles to be ironed out, but we’re happy to be playing.”
The schedules will be determined by leagues in the coming weeks. Whether Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket return to interscholastic play for the winter has yet to be determined, and that will affect those schedules as well. Each school district will also have to decide whether it will entertain any out-of-league play. For example, Falmouth and Mashpee boys’ basketball teams have played one game annually and it is hoped that they will be able to continue that tradition. Boys’ hockey at Falmouth is hoping to be able to host some games against non-Cape teams as well, but no decisions have yet been made regarding that.
“We are going to look at what we can do to play some more games,” Burke said.
Track and field is going to be an issue that needs sorting out. For the Cape and Islands League teams, Falmouth and Sandwich, there is a chance that they could play their season during the traditional winter season. Wheaton College’s indoor facility is available to use, but only during the window for the season as it is now. If the Cape and Islands were to push the season into Fall II, then they would have the problem of finding a place to have meets. The Reggie Lewis Center, in Roxbury, where the majority of the eastern Massachusetts leagues have their meets is closed and does not have a scheduled re-opening date set as of yet. There is no guarantee that it would be available in the spring, should the Cape and Islands decided to push back track.
A vote on the future of track is pending.
Triveri said that at Mashpee, and at other schools as well, that a close eye will be kept on the state’s Covid-19 numbers as well as the general health of the individual schools. He noted that nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re excited that we’re planning on playing, but everything can change quickly,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but right now we’re moving forward and planning on playing...I don’t think people realize how important this is, especially for all of the young kids, because there just is nothing else out there for them, recreation-wise, right now. Even if it means having to change how we do things, be it shorter practices, more cleaning, whatever it is, our kids and coaches are willing to put in the work because it means so much to get to play.”