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Natick - Local Town Pages

ADs Take Guarded Approach to State Agency’s Sports Guidelines

Aug 31, 2020 01:28PM ● By KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer

GARY BROWN

King Philip Regional AD

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued its guidelines as Local Town Pages was going to press. Sports for the fall season that are in the lower and moderate risk categories can compete with modifications but football, competitive cheer and unified basketball are classified as high risk. Those teams can only practice this fall but their seasons could get underway in a floating season that would run from late February to late April.

Four of the area’s veteran athletic directors are taking a wait-and-see approach to the guidelines for youth and amateur athletics that were announced by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) on Aug. 13. 

The guidance, issued because of the coronavirus pandemic, puts football in a highly doubtful category. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is expected to offer its guidelines soon and both sets will provide the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) with additional insight. To prepare for a fall season, the MIAA’s COVID-19 Task Force will have to consider modifications for moderate- and high-risk sports to allow for competition.

If football is played this fall, games would have to eliminate contact by replacing tackling with flags or playing a two-hand touch in a seven-on-seven format. Two options could be the creation of an additional season between winter and spring sports or playing football next spring.

Before detailing how the area’s athletic directors reacted to the EEA’s guidelines, here’s a rundown on what’s been spelled out. The guidance classifies 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 and competitive cheerleading. 

 TOM ANGELO

Franklin High AD

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 EEA 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 would enable golf and cross country to compete and hold tournaments. Moderate and High Risk sports can participate only in Level 1, which translates to no practices, games or tournaments. Those restrictions would be lifted if they meet “minimum mandatory standards for modification to play.”

For soccer, field hockey, volleyball and football 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, volleyball and football 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.

Tom Angelo, Franklin High’s AD, is concerned about overreaction. “Too many people are jumping to too many conclusions without hearing from all governing bodies,’’ said Angelo, who has 36 years of experience as an educator. “Whatever is decided, Franklin High School will be prepared to provide our student-athletes with a safe environment, by adhering strictly to the proper protocols established by our own school district, the EEA, DESE, MIAA and the Hockomock League.’’

Chuck Grant, who’s been Millis High’s AD for the last 18 years, emphasizes that it’s not time to panic.

“No decision has been made on whether fall sports will be canceled,’’ Grant said. “We’re still hanging in. Other guidelines were issued in July but these regulations focus “on more elaboration and more concerns.’’

“There’s still time for the virus numbers to trend downward,’’ Grant noted. “There’s still a lot of data that can be looked at. My hope for Millis and the surrounding towns is that we give fall sports a try, and that includes football. We’ll all deal with the changes needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The EEA’s guidance was issued a month before pre-season practice would start (Sept. 14). A lot can still change.’’

Gary Brown, King Philip’s AD who previously worked as an associate AD at Harvard University, says many of the sports offerings for the fall at the regional school remain intact.

“As of now, we’re planning on offering as many sports opportunities as possible for the fall, and that includes football, soccer, field hockey and volleyball,’’ Brown said. “Our goal is to offer the best student-athlete experience while keeping health and wellness as our top priorities. Athletics continue to help student-athletes physically and mentally while competing in high school sports.’’

Brown emphasized that while athletics are an important element in youth development, “the big picture is still the health and safety of our students, families, communities, our state and nation.’’

Matt Baker, who’s in his sixth year as Holliston’s AD, is concerned the EEA’s guidance clouds the fall sports picture because other agencies haven’t weighed in.

“When I first heard there was guidance regarding athletics, my hope was it would start to give us some clarity regarding high school sports,’’ said Baker, who previously worked in athletic administration at Framingham State. “I was inundated with calls, texts and emails. There was a lot of information everyone was trying to process and what it meant for high school sports. But as it turns out, this is just one set of guidelines being released by the state. We’re still awaiting additional guidance from DESE and the MIAA and until then we’re still in a holding pattern.’’

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