Berkshire County high school soccer teams won't be playing Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association-sanctioned games until the so-called Fall II season. But that doesn't mean those athletes won't be getting out on the pitch this fall.
The Berkshire County Youth Soccer League has put into work plans for a possible six-game season.
"It'll be nice to just get out there and knock the ball around and play with your teammates," Mount Greylock boys soccer coach Blair Dils said, "and go up against another team that hopefully is following the same protocols."
BCYSL president Matt Naventi, who is also the boys' varsity soccer coach at Monument Mountain High School, has had this kind of a season on his radar screen for a while.
"I have been on, since the pandemic started, state calls more or less every weekend or if not, every couple of weeks with updates about Mass. Youth Soccer, the soccer landscape in general as it relates to COVID, and the changes that were coming in every week," Naventi said. "The more we were moving through summer, the more likelihood there was for the MIAA to initially postpone the season or the start of the season. Then getting word through athletic directors that soccer may not happen, I put this suggestion out there after making sure that this is something we could do through [the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association], which a couple of other leagues across the state are doing as well, to provide an opportunity if in fact we weren't able to play soccer this fall at the high school level."
Naventi said that the Under-12 and Under-14 divisions of the BCYSL will play on Saturdays, while the high school-age athletes will give it a go on Sundays. The split was made because the U-14s are the youngest group to play on a full-sized soccer pitch. With the split, the traffic on the limited number of full-sized pitches will be lessened.
And as to the schedule?
"Somewhere between six and eight games," said Naventi, when asked what the schedule might look like. "It's not going to be a huge schedule. Just to get an opportunity to kick the ball around a little bit and have some fun."
In the summer, the MIAA's Board of Directors approved a recommendation by the COVID-19 Task Force that put boys and girls soccer into a moderate-to-low risk group of sports that could be played in the fall. Soccer would be joined by cross country, golf, volleyball and field hockey, while football is among the sports not allowed to be played in the fall.
The MIAA established a "Fall II" season which is where football will land. The Board of Directors also gave school districts the opportunity to move their regular Fall sports into that Fall II season. In Berkshire County, the school districts that have decided to participate in MIAA-sponsored sports in the Fall will compete in cross-country and golf. Those districts have elected to push soccer and volleyball into Fall II.
The fact that Pittsfield Babe Ruth and Pittsfield Girls Softball successfully negotiated the choppy COVID waters to give high school-age athletes some of what they missed when the spring sports season was canceled, helped.
"I think in some ways, it certainly did," Naventi said. "Just getting the information from the other leagues across the state on what they were doing, because some of the other areas of the state have summer programming. They were making it work without too many major issues. It's all new to everyone, so there are hiccups along the way and a lot of problem solving.
"They were making it work to the point where I was at least comfortable having our season with the lengthy guidelines that are in place."
Naventi said that he thinks every Berkshire County League high school will have players competing. He said the high school players will play in what are traditional Berkshire County high school divisions. The North Division is considered the "power" division. The Under-14 division and younger players will be involved in a more geographic schedule.
"We have enough U-16 teams, or [junior varsity] level teams, that it will be a single division for both the boys and girls at the high school level," he said. "We will have both varsity level, or U-18 opportunities and then a pocket of JV opportunities too."
While this is not a "perfect" situation, Mount Everett athletic director and girls soccer coach Josh King said that with the "Fall II" season ahead, getting out now will be good for the students.
"The good thing, especially for the kids, we all know the spring wasn't very rewarding for any of those seniors and we're just not really sure how the Fall II season is going to look weatherwise," he said. "[In April], sometimes you have snow, sometimes you have sun. I think this kind of gives them a glimmer of playing at least some semblance of something to start."
Both Dils and King said they have more than enough players going "all in" on this fall campaign. King said that Mount Everett would only field one team, while Dils said that — despite having a few players decide to opt out — Greylock will have more than enough to field two teams.
"I have a few players who have decided to just do practices with the high school team and not play in the league, which I completely respect, obviously," Dils said. "For the most part, the boys are all in and want to get back to as normal a situation as we can."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.