Updated Sept. 15
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee voted at Monday night’s meeting to approve the health and wellness committee’s recommendation to hold intramural-only sports for the 2020 fall season.
As part of the recommendation, health and wellness committee member Catherine Coogan said that without a consistent testing program for students and staff, the group could only support intramural sports on-Island.
Teams from other areas that would normally compete with the Vineyard teams will not travel to the Island this fall, under the currently accepted proposal.
The health committee reviewed guidance issued by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and other sports agencies before coming up with the recommendation submitted to the school committee.
This means that student athletes at MVRHS won’t be able to travel for sports and participate in interscholastic programs unless case metrics in surrounding areas drastically change, or the school adopts a mandatory testing policy.
Dr. Jeff Zack, member of the health committee, said that school and health officials will have to constantly reassess the situation surrounding sports programs to determine the best path forward at each moment for the Island community.
The vote made by the school committee only dictates what happens during the fall sports season, and is subject to change should the school decide to implement testing, or should other external factors, like case management and state guidance, change.
“It’s a constant reassessment. I assess this Island in one-week increments. Every week, we need to be looking at where we are. Just because this is the right decision now doesn’t mean it is going to be the right decision in two weeks,” Zack said.
In the intramural fall sports season, student athletes will do things like compete against one another in small team scrimmages, and hold regular practices, according to MVRHS athletic director Mark McCarthy.
Parent Celia Gillis said she thinks the school committee is “missing the silver lining” that could be given to student athletes by not letting them participate in interscholastic sports. She wondered whether there was another school district using universal testing as a kind of prerequisite for interscholastic sports.
Committee member Mike Watts said he has not heard of any high schools using testing as a requirement, although he said colleges and universities that are still competing with other institutions use a “two-way” testing program.
“Students are getting tested before they leave, and after they return. This requires the entire league to buy into the testing program — it can’t be that one school does it and another doesn’t,” Watts said.
Gillis said she doesn’t think intramural sports will provide the same experience for kids, or receive the same amount of buy-in from families. She also said disallowing interscholastic sports for MVRHS students widens the disparity between those who can afford to pay for private club sports and those who can’t.
“I do take my kids off-Island to play sports for the benefit of their mental health, emotional health, and physical health,” Gillis said. “I believe this will further divide our kids, the haves and the have-nots. I would allow sports to start, and then see what happens.”
Committee member Kathryn Shertzer said she thinks the schools are facing a time where the case counts are low, and all of the fall sports are outside programs.
“If we don’t offer this option for our Island kids, I think they will do it privately. What is more safe than golf? I think we are setting a precedent for winter sports, which will roll into spring sports, which will roll into every single activity outside of academics,” Shertzer said. “We may never be this good again, and we are missing this opportunity to give students something they desperately want and need.”
Varsity field hockey coach, mother, and preschool teacher Becky Nutton said she trusts the decision of the school committee, and noted that the coaches who will be constructing and running the intramural programs are the same coaches who would be coaching the varsity sports teams.
She said she doesn’t plan on “letting this season go to waste,” and will work to create and implement the most positive and beneficial sports experience for her athletes.
“We want our athletes to grow and have fun. An intramural sports program doesn’t mean just turn up when you want and play when you want. I really see this as a chance to work with my varsity team and give students a positive athletic experience,” Nutton said.
McCarthy said he would like “nothing more” than to see kids out on the field competing against other teams in their league, but said this is what the health and wellness committee suggested, based on the health guidelines issued by the state.
“We will do whatever we can to make this a safe and enjoyable experience for the athletes. We will have a COVID checklist daily, and coaches would get an alert if a student either didn’t complete the checklist or checked that they had symptoms,” McCarthy said.
Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith said he and the health and wellness committee had been in conversation with the Steamship Authority (SSA) regarding sports travel prior to their vote.
Smith said the SSA is willing to help the school “in any manner they can,” but said they won’t allow an entire bus full of students on the boat.
Edgartown health agent and member of the health and wellness committee Matt Poole said that by putting students on a bus and then asking them to not leave the bus during the duration of the boat ride, the school would “pretty much be putting students in a sealed capsule for an extended period of time, which sort of contradicts the entire idea of the guidelines surrounding travel.”
Committee member Kris O’Brien asked at which point the school committee would come back to the board and reassess the situation.
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said the school committee will place the discussion item on “every single agenda” until the winter sports season starts, which he noted was only two scheduled meetings away.
“We definitely have to make a decision about winter sports by Nov. 1,” D’Andrea said.
Students advocate for sports at rally
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, a rally organized by student athletes at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was held Sunday outside the high school.
Todd Christy said at that rally he has two twin daughters on the cross-country team who both “really want to run this year.” He said their take is that the school will do their best to make decisions that will benefit the student body, but they also think the guidance released by state and federal sports agencies that allows for sports in the fall should be followed.
“I know the school will be keeping a very close eye on everything as the school year progresses, and making sure that we are finding ways to be inclusive and safe,” Christy said.
And although some sports may look a little different this year, Christy said it is important for kids to get together and have fun. He continued to say that the most difficult part of playing school sports with all the health restrictions will be travel.
Even though football has already been postponed from the fall season, Christy said he is proud to see MVRHS football players coming out and supporting the initiative.
“Those guys probably aren’t going to be on the field till March, but they are still out here supporting their fellow athletes and classmates,” Christy said.
Sophomore field hockey player Aileen Mahoney said she wants sports to happen in the fall because she loves the sport, and loves how it provides structure to her day. “I think sports are really linked to success in school, and playing a sport helps with academics,” Aileen said.
Sophomore cross-country runner Adrienne Christy said she wants to run this year because of the social element that has been missing for so long, ever since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s just a really nice way to be with people again,” Adrienne said. She added that sports are a good way for incoming freshmen to meet new friends, and find their place in the school community.
Zach Utz said he runs for the cross-country team, and is going into his junior year at MVRHS. He said he wants to let the school committee know how important fall sports are to many students, even if some of the rules have to be changed. Zach said that for cross-country, the school is looking at changing the way teams start and stop their races.
“We are really focusing on how to start races and finish them in a safe way. Things like staggering start times, and making sure there aren’t too many people close together,” Zach said.
Maggie Best, a multi-athlete and incoming sophomore, said that she has heard rumors that the soccer team might do only scrimmages, with their team split up into mini teams, or would have to wear masks if they were going to play against other teams.
She also pointed out that travel would be an issue.
“With quarantine going on for so long, it’s pretty easy to get cabin fever. It’s easy to not get out and exercise as much, and it’s easy to miss your friends,” Maggie said. “Sports will give us some sort of normalcy, which is something I think everyone is really starving for.”
Updated to add more details from Monday’s meeting.