When high school athletes in Berkshire County and across Massachusetts begin the winter sports season this week, things will be back to normal. There is, however, one exception.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors, in a meeting Wednesday morning, reaffirmed the use of masks by student-athletes, coaches and officials for the winter sports season.
“The masking issue is plain and simple,” MIAA executive director Robert Baldwin said during a video meeting of the board. “It makes no sense to do something contrary, that contradicts what is going on during the school day. We tried the best we can, whether we agree or not, to mirror what goes on during a school day.”
In late October, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education made a determination that a universal mask requirement in all Kindergarten-through-Grade 12 schools will continue to be in place until Jan. 15, 2022. Under the DESE determination, high schools and middle schools that have 80 percent of students and staff already vaccinated can lift the mandate.
Under the statement by the Massachusetts DESE, all visitors are required to wear masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. That means fans who attend Thursday’s boys basketball game between Sci-Tech and Taconic, or Friday’s girls games featuring Wahconah at Hoosac Valley and Belchertown at Monument Mountain, will have to wear masks inside those respective gymnasiums.
“The bottom line is, whatever goes on during a school day in a school, we have tried to adhere to that after school,” Baldwin said to the Board.
In his discussion with the Board members, Baldwin said that what school districts do during the day is what districts do during practice sessions and games. But Baldwin said that if one school meets the 80 percent and the other does not, that it would behoove both sides to mask up.
“If you’re playing someone who isn’t in that threshold, then you respect them — whether you’re home or away, and have to mask up,” he said. “That’s kind of easy, common sense. It gets more complicated when you add a venue. The messaging has to be what is consistent with what is going on during the school day.”
Mount Greylock athletic director Lindsey von Holtz is president of the MIAA’s Board of Directors and she said that not having a blanket policy could create “equity.” She is concerned that student-athletes in districts with high vaccination rates don’t have to mask up and what areas have those high rates.
“It is hard to tell a kid that while you’re sitting in a classroom, you have to wear a mask. You’re probably more distant from somebody,” said von Holtz. “Then suddenly, you go and wrestle or play basketball against them and you’re panting and we’re going to let you take the mask off. I like the consistency aspect of if you’re wearing it in the school day, why change it after school.”
Hingham athletic director Jim Quatramoni, a member of the Board, said that he would like the board to consider the Connecticut model, a system that the Nutmeg State will implement after the holidays.
Under the Connecticut plan, athletes won’t have to wear masks while on the court, rink or mat. Those athletes would be required to wear masks on the bench.
“All fans, support and coaches would maintain masking,” he said. “I think it’s something that, at least, deserves discussion.”
Baldwin responded by saying that is the MIAA’s long-range goal.
“We’re aware of that,” he said, “and that is what we are hoping to move towards. It’s just how and when. Just not yet. You need to know that it is our thought process.”