MIAA gives the OK for high school fall sports

Football moved to ‘floating’ winter season; sports need to meet EEA guidelines

  • Sabrinia Sacco, left, of Stoneham, and South Hadley’s Madelyn Doolittle vie for a header during the State Division 3 Girls Soccer championship in Worcester, on Nov. 23, 2019. The MIAA Board of Directors voted to eliminate postseason tournaments this fall under its revised sports schedule. CHRISTOPHER EVANS

  • Connor Bowen, center, of Amherst Regional, runs for a first down against West Springfield during the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship, Nov. 16, 2019 at Holyoke High School. The MIAA Board of Directors voted to move football to the end of February due to its high risk classification by the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Sports Editor
Published: 8/19/2020 2:36:52 PM

Fall high school sports with the exception of football received the green light Wednesday when the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors approved the plan its COVID-19 Task Force presented in a virtual meeting.

Fall sports – soccer, field hockey, girls volleyball, golf, cross country and gymnastics – can begin practice on Sept. 18 under the youth and amateur guidelines released last week by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).

Football will be held during a floating season between the winter and spring due to its EEA high risk classification.

The plan was approved by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Tuesday.

“Sports can be an important part of a well-rounded educational experience, even during the current public health crisis. Notwithstanding the risks associated with COVID-19, organized physical activity should be encouraged, within clear health and safety parameters,” the MIAA and DESE said in a joint statement.

The task force emphasized giving districts and schools flexibility, understanding that the pandemic is fluid and the MIAA may need to pivot at any time.

Under the plan the fall season will run Sept. 18 to Nov. 20. The winter season will be held Nov. 30 to Feb. 21. The floating season will run Feb. 22 to April 25. The spring season will be April 26 to July 3.

The floating season is for high risk sports – football, competitive cheerleading and unified basketball – as well as fall sports that cannot rise to level 3 (the EEA’s standard for competition). The floating season can also be utilized by schools in remote learning that opt out of a fall season.

According to Duxbury Athletic Director Thomas Holdgate, who is co-chair of the task force and a member of the board of directors, having the floating season in late winter allows for athletes to avoid conflicts with other sports. The task force also did not want one sport to take precedence over others.

Regions have the ability to adjust dates pending approval by their District Athletic Committee.

Key to the plan is following the EEA’s guidelines for achieving levels of play: level 1 (individual or socially distanced group activities); level 2 (competitive practices) and level 3 (competitions).

Low-risk sports – golf, gymnastics and cross country – can participate in all four levels. Moderate – volleyball, field hockey and soccer – and high-risk sports can participate in level 1, but in order to reach level 2 and 3, those sports need to meet the EEA’s minimum mandatory standards for modification.

Under the EEA’s guidelines, high-risk sports can use the fall season to practice as long as they follow the EEA’s cohort guidelines.

Sports participation for remote learners will be based on the Department of Public Health’s data map. The plan calls for no sports for school districts that are designated red by the DPH. Only Holyoke and Granby are currently listed as red communities in western Massachusetts.

Districts in remote learning that are designated yellow, green or white could either delay their season to the floating season or offer sports if they receive approval by their respective school committee.

A school’s eligibility for sports based on its color-coded designation can be subject to change. The board noted that DESE has not provided guidance for regional schools that have towns with different DPH classifications.

Schools will receive more information on sport modifications. Individual MIAA sport committees will work with the Sports Medicine Committee to arrive at guidelines that meet EEA level 3 requirements by Aug. 25. The COVID-19 Task Force will review those guidelines by Aug. 27 and MIAA President Jeff Granatino and Executive Director Bill Gaine will grant final approve by Sept. 1.

The board passed a number of other measures:

■MIAA sponsored postseason fall tournaments are eliminated, but regions can hold tournaments as long as they fall within EEA guidelines.

■Schools are encouraged to create schedules that limit travel and number of opponents.

■Rule 40 that prohibits out-of-season coaching has been waived from Sept. 18 to July 3. Coaches need approval by their school principals before working with athletes.

■Schools must notify their opponents and the MIAA if health metrics require them to stop athletics.

■Athletes can play four seasons.

■Fall sports that have their season cut short can petition their District Athletic Committee to move their season to the floating season.

High-risk sports in other seasons like hockey, basketball, wrestling and boys lacrosse, will be evaluated at a later time.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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