High school basketball players in Berkshire County and athletes from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are one step closer to having some kind of season.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released a new series of guidelines for sports and recreational activities. Those guidelines provide a path for some sports to be contested this winter.
The sport list includes what the EEA calls higher risk sports like basketball and hockey. Wrestling, another sport in the higher risk category, will not be able to hold competitions this season.
“I’m sure that, like most coaches, we’ve all been waiting patiently for the snowball effect to actually start,” Drury girls basketball coach Ian Downey said. “No one’s going to make decisions until you hear from the state first. Now that this is coming out, hopefully, the MIAA will come out with their [recommendations] and hopefully our principals and athletic directors and towns can tell us what we can expect for the winter.”
This is the easy part. Now, the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force, the various sports committees, the Tournament Management Committee and the Board of Directors will swing into action.
“Once the guidance comes out, that’s where the decision-making needs to happen,” said Wahconah athletic director Jared Shannon, a member of the COVID-19 Task Force and the MIAA’s TMC. “That’s going to happen starting immediately. The COVID Task Force is scheduled to meet Monday, and then I assume, the board will meet pretty quickly after that. I’m not sure about their timeline.”
The guidelines from the EEA read that sports and activities included in what are called the “lower risk” category can hold individual or socially distant group activities (Level 1), competitive practice (Level 2), compete (Level 3) and compete in tournaments (Level 4). High school winter sports included in the lower risk category are Alpine and Nordic skiing. Swimming is considered a moderate risk sport and can participate in Levels 1, 2 and 3.
The EEA writes that “Sports and activities in the higher risk category that require intermittent close proximity or moderate contact (basketball, lacrosse, ice hockey, ultimate frisbee) or sports that require high contact but are only performed outdoors (football and rugby) can participate in Level 1, 2 and 3 type of play.”
The other higher risk sports, which includes high school wrestling and competitive cheer, can participate in either Level 1 or Level 2 activities, but cannot participate in competitions or tournaments.
“The sport committees, especially for basketball and ice hockey, I’m sure will immediately start to come up and see what modifications need to be brought in,” Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate said in an interview with the Eagle. Holdgate is co-chairman of the MIAA’s COVID-19 Task Force.
“Those will still have to go through [the Sports Medicine Committee] just like we did in the fall,” he said.
Both Holdgate and Shannon said that one requirement will be that all competitors and coaches will wear masks during competitions.
“The sport committees have five days from when [the guidelines] come out,” Shannon said. “They should have, by the end of next week, their recommendations for modifications, which is what they did in the fall. This is a little more of a proactive timeline instead of a reactive timeline. They kind of slapped it together in three days in the fall. This time, I know some of the sport committees have been working on this, just brainstorming things.”
MIAA Director of Communications Tara Bennett confirmed in a statement released Friday morning that the various sport committees will present specific modifications and guidance to the MIAA’s Sports Medicine Committee within five school days after the EEA’s release. Then the Sports Medicine Committee will present viable winter sports and proposed modifications to the COVID-19 Task Force, which would make its recommendations to the MIAA’s Board of Directors.
Three days after that, the Board would vote on those recommendations.
The MIAA Board of Directors had voted unanimously last month to not hold MIAA-sponsored postseason tournaments in the winter season. So the thing now is to determine what a regular season looks like.
In Berkshire County, Shannon said, that might look like a basketball season within the county’s boundaries.
“I would say any sport that we play will be Berkshire County only,” the Wahconah athletic director said. “I know for a fact we’re not leaving the county. In an [athletic directors] meeting we had last week, we discussed it and I don’t think too many schools are willing or able to leave the county at this point.”
What that does to the Berkshire County high school swim league is anyone’s guess. Mount Anthony (Vt.), New Lebanon (N.Y.) and Hudson (N.Y.) all compete against Berkshire teams Pittsfield, Taconic, Monument Mountain and Wahconah in the pool.
Holdgate said that he anticipates the EEA might release another set of guidelines at some point, but added that what came out on Friday will lead to a high school football season in the Fall II season. The guidelines from the EEA state that football must engage in its permissible activities outdoors.
“I believe what the plan would be, although what they put out there really takes care of Fall II, you may see another set before Fall II,” Holdgate said, “although they did take care of football with how they wrote this one. I believe most sports are taken care of.”
Drury’s Downey said coaches have waited this long for guidance, they can wait a little longer.
“Anything that we can give the kids is good,” he said. “In a selfish way, I think most of us coaches will take as much as they will give us. Hopefully, things stay in a position where we can have a season.”