Smith College bars local high school track teams from facilities due to ‘worsening pandemic conditions’

  • Jonas Clarke, of South Hadley, runs to a first place in the 55-meter dash final during the PVIAC indoor track championships on Feb. 7, 2020, at Smith College. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Reports
Published: 12/16/2021 6:13:08 PM

Smith College will no longer allow local high school teams to use its Indoor Track and Tennis facility for practices or meets, the school confirmed Thursday.

Previously the plan was for teams to be able to compete in meets but not practice under restrictions with fewer competitors per event. However, the decision was announced to eliminate access “due to worsening pandemic conditions in the region,” Smith College Senior Director For News and Strategic Communications Stacey Schmeidel confirmed in an email.

“We will continue to monitor public health conditions and adjust our policies accordingly,” Schmeidel wrote.

The PVIAC, which organizes the meet and governs high school sports in the Pioneer Valley, wasn’t schedule to compete at Smith until Jan. 9. They’ll host a meet at 4:20 p.m. Friday at Wheaton College still, but the rest of the schedule is up in the air due to Thursday’s decision.

There was no indoor track last winter due to a lack of facility access, though some programs competed in indoor events on an outdoor track during the Fall II season between last spring and winter.

Some fears permeated the track and field community this fall that they would face similar circumstances this winter due to how regimented Smith College was being with access to outside parties.

“A lot of it was rumor and speculation until things were ironed out with the league,” South Hadley coach Nick Davis said. “A lot of stuff that came out wasn’t true because we will have a season happening.”

Northampton coach Linda Rowbotham heard at the postseason cross country meeting the Monday before Thanksgiving that their preseason indoor track meeting was postponed to Dec. 6 because something good was in the works.

“I don’t think anybody was worried,” she said. “Everybody was just hoping there was going to be no Fall II season.”

The PVIAC initially negotiated with Smith College to allow access for meets with limited participants – three athletes per event per school rather than the usual four. In lieu of being able to access the facilities at Smith, most teams are using their own gyms and outdoor tracks, while some have made weekly trips to Roots Athletic Center in Westfield to work on some actual apparatuses.

“It’s an adjustment for sure,” Davis said. “We’re going to be rusty for field events.”

Being able to allow the student-athletes to compete was the most important factor for all parties involved. Frontier Regional coach Bob Smith, in the program’s first year of indoor competition, was contemplating hosting the indoor season on outdoor tracks if they couldn’t get inside anywhere. Some teams also floated the possibility of strictly racing at invitational meets out east if they couldn’t host anything closer to home.

“It has been frustrating leading to the start of the season,a s it has been for the past couple of years,” Holyoke coach Axel Cruz said. “We do the work for the athletes, so, we’re always looking toward the silver lining of the situation.”

Now some of those alternatives may come back into play with Thursday’s development.

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