MIAA Heat Modification Policy impacting area schools


Staff Writers

Published: 05-26-2021 7:32 PM

Wondering why a high school sporting event was canceled on a hot day without any other weather variables? Check out the new MIAA Heat Modification Policy. 

The policy — which was adopted Jan. 16, 2019 and went into effect July 1, 2019 — is a way to ensure that sporting events or practices will not be held if a playing surface reaches a specific Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). 

What is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature? There’s a complicated definition that only science majors might understand, but it’s essentially a thermometer that takes wind speed, humidity, due point, UV index, etc. into effect and creates the true temperature outside. The MIAA Heat Modification Policy states that a WBGT reading of over 86.1 degrees results in the cancellation of an event, or a delay until the reading drops below 86.1 degrees.

The device can cost as little as $150 or upward of $400-$500. Deciding to postpone or cancel a game because of the reading falls on the site administrator or athletic trainer.

It also requires schools to have a maximum of one hour of activity if the WBGT reading is between 84.1 and 86 degrees, and a maximum of two hours if the reading is between 81.1 and 84 degrees.

The policy only applies to MIAA sports in the state.

With no spring season in 2020 due to COVID-19, not many fans are aware of the policy change, though those who coached or played high school football in 2019 are surely aware of it as they would have to consistently take the WBGT reading during August and early September practices or games.

Hampshire County got its first real taste of the policy this week. Smith Academy had to postpone its weekend baseball and softball games against Hopkins Academy on Saturday, while Amherst, Belchertown, Granby and other area schools postponed games Wednesday.

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“It kind of snuck up on us. I don’t think many of us were prepared. The concept of trying to be safe, I get all that,” South Hadley athletic director Eric Castonguay said. “If we have to worry about the weather outside of rain in the spring, we’re going to have a hard time getting games in.”

Each game, meet or match can have a completely different set of circumstances. For Turners Falls and Frontier Regional, holding a tennis match on a 90-degree day proved to be nearly impossible Wednesday when factoring in how much hotter it is on the black top court than it would be on a grassy field.

“I think tennis and lacrosse on turf fields might be a problem,” Castonguay said. “It’s about three, four, five degrees hotter on those surfaces.”

Castonguay suggested taking extra water breaks on days where the index is close to dangerous levels.

When the policy went into effect, there was no way to predict a global pandemic would delay the 2021 spring sports season. In a normal year, this would be the final week of the regular season for high school sports. The postseason would start the first week of June.

Due to the pandemic and a four-season calendar used by the MIAA, this spring season started later and the regular season will run through June 15. The MIAA implemented sectional and state tournaments as well this spring, and those could potentially run into July. With summer still not yet here and temperatures likely only going up over the next month, cancellations and postponements may only become more common.

“We’ve never played spring sports this late into the season,” Smith Academy athletic director Allison Slysz said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of us.”

As if rescheduling games wasn’t a difficult enough challenge, doing so with so many end-of-year celebrations, award ceremonies and graduations only further complicates getting all the games contested.

“The problem is we don’t have many more places we can fit these games in,” Slysz said.

Some games could be pushed later at night under the lights if teams have the facilities available. Not everyone does. Compound that with the new baseball national federation pitch count rules, and smaller pitching staffs could be squeezed late in the season and into the postseason.

“It could create a competitive disadvantage,” Castonguay said. “But you’ve got to look out for the kids’ safety first.”