Nine days ago, only one of Berkshire County’s three high school hockey programs had officially announced that it would not field a team this winter.
But as the calendar turned from October to November, the other two — Drury and Mount Everett — have decided to shelve their respective seasons as well.
In a letter to members of the Drury co-op hockey team and their families, Drury athletic director Dave Racette wrote that “Hockey presents challenges that are not issues with other sports.”
All three Berkshire County hockey programs are co-op teams. Drury is the host school for Mount Greylock, McCann Tech and Hoosac Valley. Mount Everett hosts Monument Mountain, Lee and Lenox.
“The primary issue is the fact that the [Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association] and the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force, in addition to the North Adams Public Schools and Berkshire County, are encouraging athletic participation to happen within regions or competitive ‘bubbles,’” Racette wrote in his letter. “Both Wahconah and Mount Everett have already paused their programs for the upcoming 2020-21 seasons, thus eliminating a potential Berkshire County-only ‘bubble’ schedule.”
Mount Everett athletic director, Josh King said it was not an easy call.
“It was a tough decision,” he said in an interview with The Eagle Wednesday night. “There’s a lot of different factors in our situation. Co-oping with three other schools and do those other school districts allow their kids to play and participate? Lee did golf but not cross country [this fall]. Monument did the golf and cross country this year and Lenox did nothing at all. That was a factor.”
King said the inability to use the rink at Berkshire School was another issue.
“They’re a closed campus at the moment,” he said. “I had been talking with our youth program, and they’re going to combine with the Berkshire Bruins this year, so they’re going to be up in Pittsfield playing this year. There are a lot of different factors. It wasn’t just one thing.”
The MIAA has not yet released any guidelines for winter sports activities. When the MIAA’s Board of Directors met last week, it was determined to await guidelines from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the cabinet-level office that is handling the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that the EEA will have recommendations for the winter season either by the end of this week or sometime next week.
While the Board of Directors is not scheduled to meet again until December, it could schedule a meeting within three days of the new recommendations being published.
In the letter, Racette said without Mount Everett and Wahconah, playing would be impossible.
“With travel to the Pioneer Valley prohibited by several schools in our co-op agreement and the unlikelihood of finding Pioneer Valley teams willing to schedule out-of-county games, even if restrictions were lifted,” he wrote, “we have come to the difficult decision to cancel Drury hockey for the upcoming 2020-21 season.”
Mount Everett principal Jesse Carpenter said everybody is in the same position “trying to do the best for your community in terms of your space. We didn’t want to get into too many discussions prematurely. With them being a closed campus, it looked like it was going to be pretty hard to use their facility for the entire season.”
Racette and King both said that by making this decision now, it will give a chance for players on both of their teams to make arrangements to participate in club hockey “should local rinks reopen and play is allowed in the county.”
Carpenter said that, at least as of now, other winter sports are still on the docket.
“Everybody’s going to be disappointed, we all know that,” Carpenter said. “We’re in a similar situation to last spring, where you feel terrible for the kids who want to play. This is a difficult time period, and you end up making some decisions that are necessitated by health and things like that.
“When you take all things considered, I don’t know how we were going to give kids a really viable hockey season.”