As the 2020-21 school year approaches, one of the many issues that need to be addressed is the fall high school sports season. In Massachusetts, the MIAA Board of Directors has been in constant discussion about plans, working with the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force and the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee.
“Every sports committee has come up with a pretty good plan of the changes that will need to happen to make sports as safe as they can be,” Old Rochester athletic director and member of the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee Bill Tilden said. “There’s no way to make it 100 percent — there is a risk of COVID, no matter what we do. So long as people understand that and that there are some considerable rule changes going on that are going to be tricky to navigate at first because kids have been playing a game a certain way for such a long time, and now you’re making some pretty major changes to it to keep making them as safe as possible. It’s going to be tricky.”
The MIAA has released recommendations for schools over the course of the summer to give athletic directors guidance. However, the decision to offer fall sports to student-athletes this year falls upon each individual school.
“We’re looking at a league approach (in the Mayflower Athletic Conference),” Old Colony athletic director and member of the MIAA Board of Directors Matt Trahan said. “Because, in all of this, there are so many fine intricacies where if you choose to do something, you can affect somebody else. … There’s really a lot to it, and each school is different.”
At Old Colony, vocational-technical high school students will be attending their shop courses in person on a hybrid (two weeks in, two weeks out) model. The academic students, however, will be learning at home in the fall.
Old Rochester’s hybrid model will cover the vast majority of its student body, as students attend school two days a week and learn from home the other three days, dividing the student body in half to limit the amount in the building at a time.
As Trahan points out, each school is handling the fall differently. There are still some districts that don’t expect to have students in the building at the start of the 2020-21 school year. That creates another obstacle for the fall sports season — both for the schools not bringing students back into the building and the schools they’re scheduled to play.
“(Schools doing remote learning solely) still have to make the decision if they are going to allow sports during this phase or not,” Tilden said. “And there are some hybrid schools that are very nervous about the timing of it.”
There’s also been some discussion about trying to play some of the spring sports in the fall, given they lend themselves to social distancing. But the concern about starting a spring season again only to potentially cancel it again is too great a risk at this stage. Rather than put baseball, softball, lacrosse, and other spring student-athletes at risk, schools would rather wait on those sports for the spring, with the hope those athletes won’t have to experience a repeat of what has happened in 2020.
“We’re always going to look at the best interest of the kids in keeping them safe,” Trahan said. “That’s the top priority. I could say the same for the (Mayflower) league. Everybody’s onboard to take care of the kids in the league and make sure they get a quality experience, but ultimately that they’re safe in double so.”
For all the doubt associated with the process, there is hope for fall student-athletes, in large part thanks to the work Trahan, Tilden, and their colleagues have done and continue to put forth.
By Nick Friar