Fall sports still a question for Island schools

Contact sports labeled high-risk, ‘wedge season’ formed by MIAA. 

MVRHS football players, shown here prepping for the 2019 season, will have to wait to get back on the field.

Schools on-Island are still considering how to have sports this year while being safe and following health guidelines.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) have released guidance in collaboration with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) relating to amateur and high school sports.

One of the most important aspects of the guidance is to add a “wedge season” or a fourth sport season called “fall II,” in order to accommodate sports programs that may not be able to be held during their traditional season.  The wedge season will run from around Feb. 22 to April 25.

School sports at the elementary schools and charter school also fall under the guidelines issued by the state.

Recently, the Cape and Islands League athletic directors met to discuss the recently released guidance and consider the implications for member schools. 

According to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) athletic director Mark McCarthy, the high school is looking to find ways to modify sports so that they can be compliant with EEA and MIAA guidelines, without having to move them to the wedge season. 

“If we can change these sports so they still look like the original sport but are safe to play during COVID, that is what we will do,” McCarthy said.

Individual sports committees of the MIAA are making recommendations as far as what changes can be made to each sport to make them compliant. 

“They’re not easy,” McCarthy said of the recommendations. “Some of the sports will be much easier than others to accommodate the guidelines.”

According to McCarthy, sports are categorized under three different COVID-19 risk levels under the MIAA guidance: low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk. He said low-risk sports include tennis, golf, and cross country. In those sports, some minor modifications will have to be made, but will be largely unchanged. In the moderate-risk category, there is baseball, softball, sailing, track and field, team swimming, field hockey, girls lacrosse, and soccer. 

High-risk sports like football, basketball, boys lacrosse, ice hockey, and cheerleading will either have to be drastically altered to comply with health restrictions, or moved to the fall II season, according to McCarthy.

He said football and cheerleading have already been moved to the fall II season. 

“It’s mostly contact sports and indoor sports that are in the high-risk category,” McCarthy said. “At any point, if sports leagues decide that the sport cannot be played safely during the regular season, it can be moved to fall II.”

And if some winter sports are unable to be played, McCarthy said they could “theoretically” be moved to the wedge season. 

State and regional sports associations, along with McCarthy, hope that there will be a reduction in case counts and a loosening of guidance as a result. 

“We don’t want to have to change these sports so they become a different game. There are some people that say ‘let’s make these modifications, let’s get these kids out there and get them playing.’ But there are also those saying it is too risky,” McCarthy said. 

According to McCarthy, a survey sent to parents about how they felt about their kids playing fall sports came back “pretty positive.”

“Athletics being an opt-in program, families can choose to have their kids play or not play. If a parent doesn’t feel comfortable, they can opt to not be involved with the sports season,” McCarthy said.

Currently, no school sports will start on-Island until Sept. 18, and McCarthy said all protocols that are in place will involve masks and social distancing. 

“As athletic directors, we are chomping at the bit — we want to plan, we want to have all this information readily available so we can make these sports safe for kids,” McCarthy said. 

The Cape and Islands League wrote in a press release that the new guidance shows that there is hope for school sports this year, and a “promise that everyone involved with interscholastic sports will do everything in their power to allow student-athletes to safely return to playing fields, courts, rinks, and pools this coming school year.”