Volleyball-4

GILLIAN JONES — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

High School volleyball players in Berkshire County, like those pictured in a Fall II match between Wahconah and Lee, will be required to wear masks while they practice and compete. The mandate, announced Thursday morning by the MIAA, will be reviewed on Oct. 1.

Masks are back for high school volleyball.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sent out a statement Thursday morning mandating the use of masks for student-athletes and coaches during indoor competions only. In the fall, only volleyball is an indoor sport.

The other fall sports contested in Berkshire County include football, soccer, golf and cross country running.

So on the Sept. 7 opening night when Lee plays at Pittsfield and Mount Greylock plays at Lenox, athletes on both teams, their coaches, the officials, the spectators and media members will all be masked. It's the same as it was during the Fall II season last winter.

The release reads as follows: "In order to safely maximize full participation of fall sports — Masks shall be required for any activity for student-athletes and coaches who are indoors. Masks are not required and will remain optional for any activity for student-athletes and coaches outdoors.

"These are minimum required safety standards that are consistent with the practice of indoor and outdoor recess and indoor and outdoor physical education classes during the school day."

Coaches and athletes in the outdoor fall sports have the option to wear, or not wear, masks during practices or competitions.

The Pittsfield Public Schools have released its Fall 2021 Health and Safety Guidelines. Masks will be required indoors for all student-athletes, coaches, event staff and spectators. Outdoors, masks will be "strongly recommended" for non-vaccinated student-athletes, coaches, event staff and spectators, with masks being "recommended" for everyone else.

Masks will be required for all participants when they ride buses to road games.

The use of locker rooms at Pittsfield and Taconic will be allowed. There will be no capacity limits for indoor or outdoor events, but in Pittsfield there is a recommendation "that spectators consist of participating students immediate family only. All spectators shall maintain social distancing of at least 3 feet indoors." That is according to the Health and Safety Guidelines.

While masks will be required indoors, there will be no other volleyball adjustments.

"At the current moment there are no sport adjustments at the high school level," Mount Greylock athletic director and MIAA Board president Lindsey von Holtz wrote in an email to The Eagle. "Students, Coaches, Officials and Fans indoors will be wearing masks, but the rules of the sport will follow NFHS Rules."

What that means is that the numerous recommendations made by the Sports Medicine Committee last school year and approved by the Board of Directors, are not in effect.

That means, there will be no maximum of 25 players on the court for practices and for matches. Locker rooms will not be mandated to be closed, which they were by the MIAA during the Fall II season.

According to a policy put forward by Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley on Wednesday, the mask mandate is for all students, staff and visitors inside of school buildings. Students and staff are not required to wear masks outdoors.

The decision by Riley is not for the entire school year, at least not yet. 

In a statement from the Department of Education, the mask mandate will be re-evaluated in a month.

"After October 1, 2021, if a school demonstrates a vaccination rate of 80% or more of students and staff in the school, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the DESE mask requirement. DESE will provide additional information to districts in the coming weeks in preparation for the October 1 date, including how to demonstrate the 80% vaccination rate threshold," the statement concluded.

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.