EEA releases fall sport safety standards; high school football status in jeopardy

  • Greenfield’s Carly Blanchard, left, celebrates scoring her first varsity goal with Emma Savoy against Pioneer in girls’ soccer action last year. The MIAA has yet to announce the ultimate status for the 2020 season. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2020 1:40:44 PM

As Massachusetts residents await an announcement from the state regarding potential fall sports guidance, those involved in implementing high school and middle school athletics continue to move forward in anticipation of a mid-September starting date.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Sports Medicine Committee recommended earlier this week that the fall season start no earlier than Sept. 16, two days later than the original delayed start of Sept. 14 which had been agreed upon last month. Games would begin around Oct. 1, as the MIAA said it will still require the same number of practice days it normally would prior to the start of a season.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a fall season, however. The MIAA said it wouldn’t make a final determination without guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), though K-12 sporting criteria has yet to be released.

There was guidance released from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) on Thursday, which is the first step in shaping what a fall season would look like in the state. The expectation is that the DESE will follow with guidance in the coming days, and the MIAA’s Board of Directors would then meet to make final determinations based on those recommendations.

Thursday’s EEA release touched on a number of topics regarding a potential fall sports season, though perhaps the most pressing news is that the sport of football is unlikely to be recommended for game play in 2020. With guidance going into considerable depth about necessary distancing and safety measures, football remains categorized as a “higher risk” sport, which has not yet been cleared for anything other than “individual or socially distanced group activities (non-contact workouts, aerobic conditioning, individual skill work),” as traditionally played.

Sports like soccer, field hockey and volleyball were listed in the “moderate risk” category, which are also not able to play games and full-contact practices, “as traditionally played.”

Football, soccer, field hockey and volleyball would need to adhere to certain modifications in order to be able to play games this fall. Those modifications include “eliminating deliberate contact” and “minimizing intermittent contact.” How those sports would manage to do that remains to be seen, though eliminating deliberate contact specifically includes “tackling, collisions, blocking and body checking.”

The EEA’s recommendations include use of protective equipment and facial coverings for all sports as one implementation.

“For example, soccer players should have facial coverings with them at all times, and where possible play with the facial covering on, removing it for long runs down the field, for plays without close contact, and in the goal,” the EEA said in its release.

The MIAA released a brief statement on Thursday, acknowledging the EEA’s guidance:

“The MIAA is aware of the updated guidelines for youth sports released by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) today and await the accompanying guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). According to the timeline established by the Board of Directors during their July meeting, the Board will convene no later than three business days after the release of the DESE guidelines.”

The Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) tweeted Thursday that it hopes to have the sport moved to the spring season, if fall is indeed off the table. “Updated guidelines from the EEA today appears to ban games this fall,” the organization said. “Our hope is [the MIAA] will exhaust all avenues to make a spring season work and consider some fall practice. We will elaborate on this soon.”

Turners Falls High School Athletic Director Adam Graves said this week that his department is proceeding under the Sept. 16 start date, and would readjust if instructed to by the state and MIAA.

“We’re planning for a start date of September 16. Registrations for fall sports are happening, but that’s all we can really do at this point until we receive more guidance,” Graves said.

Graves said he has heard from many parents and student-athletes about the impending fall campaign, and that there’s a general hopefulness that games might still be able to happen.

“I’m just telling them to be prepared for everything,” he explained. “Let’s be ready to go September 16 so get your forms and everything in and as soon as we know more, we’ll let you know and come up with the best plan.

“I think people are hoping we have some sort of season,” he continued. “People understand it’s not going to be traditional. This is going to look more like the new normal. But if we can get people on the fields and the courts in some capacity, that would be a positive thing. I wish I had more information to share with parents, but that’s just where we are right now.”

Greenfield High School AD Mike Kuchieski said his district is also eyeing the Sept. 16 starting date, but acknowledged that in order for practices and games to happen this fall, there needs to be some creativity on the part of those making the key decisions.

“I really hope we think outside the box on this and get something done for these student-athletes,” Kuchieski said.

At Franklin County Technical School, AD Joe Gamache said his fall sports program has 175-180 student-athletes signed up already. Gamache said he’s maintained contact via email with parents and students, keeping them updated about the process from the MIAA.

“We’ve sent out communication as we’ve received them,” Gamache said. “For the most part, it has limited people’s questions. I think they realize I’m being transparent and they know what I know when I know it. Which, to be 100-percent honest, isn’t a whole lot right now.”

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