Softball program gets waiver

Seventh- and eighth-graders can play varsity.

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MVHRS softball Coach Sam Burns, shown here at a 2019 game, sought and was given an exemption to allow seventh- and eighth-graders to play on her varsity team. — MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School softball team has been granted a waiver to allow seventh- and eighth-grade students to play on the team.

Coach Samantha Burns went before the school board on Wednesday, March 30, to request the waiver, saying that allowing the younger players to compete at the varsity level would allow her to “sustain a team at the high school level.”

According to Coach Burns, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the momentum she had built in the program. She said the program lacks a feeder program at the youth level, which she also hopes to correct by reviving that program in May.

“I want you to know I’m committed to rebuilding the program here. This is really important to the success, and we greatly appreciate your help,” Burns told the school committee of the waiver. “We haven’t had a youth program on the Island for a number of years — probably 10 or 12 years now — so this is something we saw coming.”

The lack of youth playing softball is also affecting the adult softball leagues on the Island, Coach Burns, who is commissioner of that league, said.

Coach Burns said she will likely need a waiver for three to four years to rebuild the program. There are 10 high school students signed up for the varsity team this year, and five seventh- and eighth-graders who had signed up pending the approval by the school committee, she said.

Despite some concerns raised by school board members, the board ultimately approved the waiver.

School board member Kathryn Shertzer said she “clings to the fact” that guardians understand that their young students are playing on a team with older kids. “I want to support the kids who want to play, and I’m impassioned by the 10 girls who want to play, but it so rubs me the wrong way to have 12-year-olds and 18-year-olds on the same team,” Shertzer said.

Coach Burns pointed out that MVRHS isn’t alone. Other schools they compete against also allow seventh- and eighth-graders to play in order to sustain their programs. 

Amy Houghton, school committee chair, pointed out that a similar waiver has been approved for the boys hockey program.

Athletic director Mark McCarthy said the team is already approved by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association for a cooperative team, which means softball players from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School can play for the team.

“You can form a co-op when both schools can’t form a team on their own,” McCarthy said. “Ten girls is not enough to have a legitimate team.”