Pittsfield schools cancel fall sports season

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A unanimous vote by the Pittsfield School Committee Wednesday ended the high school fall sports season in the city before it even got started.

In a 7-0 decision by the committee, the members agreed to "postpone all interscholastic athletic activities in the Pittsfield Public Schools through Nov. 30, 2020, with the hope for a three-season 'float,' with determination of interscholastic athletic activities subsequent to Nov. 30 to be made by the school committee."

In other words, fall sports are off the table at Pittsfield High and Taconic, and when athletes do resume sports, it will be with winter sports.

The committee, meeting in a special session, had to make the vote because of the joint guidelines provided by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Massachusetts Department for Elementary and Secondary Education. In those joint guidelines, schools that are fully remote to start, had to have their individual school committees approve the playing of fall sports.

With the decision, the sports of football, soccer, volleyball, golf and cross-country running will be placed into a "floating" season created by the MIAA for the 2020-21 school year. That season will slot in between the traditional winter and sports seasons, with dates to be determined.

Pittsfield Public Schools Athletic Director Jim Abel, who is the AD for both PHS and Taconic, presented to the committee his findings from meetings with ADs both in the Berkshires and across the commonwealth. In his opening remarks, Abel stressed the importance of the school committee making a choice, one way or the other, in order to provide athletes with more clarity.

"I think we owe it to our students and their families to come to a decision sooner rather than later regarding the status of Fall 2020 sports," Abel said. "We've seen things playing out in neighboring communities, along with neighboring states, and it's really been a roller coaster ride for these kids. Whether our decision is favorable or unfavorable, I think we can't leave our students hanging well into September if they are fall athletes. I don't think it would be fair to them, nor our school committee members and school administrators that are trying to get their arms around providing education on Sept. 15."

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In his presentation, Abel noted that the Berkshire County ADs had formed a joint resolution for fall sports. The Berkshire County ADs voted to try and move forward with golf and cross-country running in the traditional fall season, while football, soccer and volleyball would be moved to the floating, "Fall II" season created by the MIAA.

But while the Berkshire ADs voted 8-2 in favor of that proposal, Abel noted that he was the lone dissenting vote, and that he votes for both Taconic and PHS.

"I had a tough time voting in favor of something — we are in the process of trying to deliver education, and doing so in a way that's 100-percent remote with the goal of eliminating foot traffic on our campus," Abel said. "So I had a tough time voting in favor of something that would approve the idea of adding foot traffic while trying to deliver athletics, while we aren't doing so while delivering education."

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Abel also noted that, when the Berkshire ADs presented their proposal to Berkshire County principals, the principals voted down their idea.

"A second vote to have no sports taking place in Berkshire County and moving all fall sports to that floating season, did pass," Abel noted of the principals' view.

School committee members then began to ask Abel questions, including how the floating season would work, why the school committee was being asked to make the decision, and how fall sports in winter months could work.

Abel said that, if the fall sports were moved to the 2021 portion of the calendar, that the sports season schedule would shift. The MIAA has allowed that to happen for the 2020-21 school year. Because of that, Abel noted that the floating season could start as early as the end of February, and could run through the middle of May.

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Committee member Daniel Elias asked Abel what would happen if the rest of the county's schools decided to do golf and cross-country — as the ADs originally proposed — and Pittsfield and Taconic did not.

"I don't think we will be the only school district taking a serious look at whether to operate golf or cross-country running," Abel said.

Toward the end of the discussion about sports, Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent James "Jake" McCandless suggested that the committee might not have to vote immediately on sports. But after more discussion, the committee did decide to take a vote.

Abel then presented his plan, which was to delay fall sports until Nov. 30. But before he did, he reiterated why he proposed postponing sports.

"The bottom line is, it's really tough to imagine in-person, education-based athletics when we aren't operating in-person learning," Abel said. "It kills me to say that."

Geoff Smith can be reached at gsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.


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