Northampton, Frontier Regional receive OK for winter sports; Smith Academy told no

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2020 11:16:09 PM
Modified: 12/10/2020 11:15:59 PM

Northampton High School will sponsor winter sports in 2021, after the Northampton School Committee voted 9-1 to approve alpine skiing, swimming and diving, and a basketball “drills and skills” program Thursday.

The basketball program will still need to submit plans to the Northampton Health Department, which prohibited “all sports and recreation activities that involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.”

Alpine skiing is considered a low risk sport by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, while swimming is a moderate risk. Basketball is classified as high risk.

The swimming and diving team will conduct virtual meets.

Committee member Susan Voss represented the lone no vote. She tried to add an amendment to the motion allowing sports that had athletes acknowledge the higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 indoors, but it did not receive a second.

“I’m nervous about indoor things going on, and I really want to support this,” Voss said. “I don’t want to micromanage this, I just want to keep our kids safe.”

The winter season won’t begin until Jan. 11. While it hasn’t been made official, the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference is moving toward changing its starting date of Jan. 4.

Most school committees are deciding on winter sports this week. In addition to Northampton, Smith Academy and Frontier Regional held meetings Thursday night.

Smith Academy will not offer basketball this season, nor allow its co-op to move forward with the Greenfield hockey program.

The Hatfield School Committee voted 3-1 to not allow either sport this winter season.

Smith Academy Athletic Director Allison Slysz made a presentation to the committee. It included a statement from Hatfield COVID coordinator Kerry Flaherty and a joint statement from Board of Health Chair Bob Osley and member Liz Kugler. Both did not recommend winter sports.

Slysz, who coaches basketball, did not recommend sports.

Smith Academy was the only Hampshire County school in the fall to not offer sports.

“If we did not allow fall sports to happen, then I do not think that now is the time to engage in such a high-risk sport given the current state of the pandemic,” part of Slysz’s statement read.

A special meeting of the Frontier School Committee in conjunction with the Town of Deerfield Selectboard and Board of Health saw the committee pass its motion regarding winter sports by a 5-3 margin Thursday night.

The motion is subject to review at the four-town board of health meeting scheduled for Dec. 29.

Frontier will offer basketball, alpine skiing and ice hockey. Girls hockey is part of the Pope Francis cooperative program, while boys hockey plays with Greenfield’s cooperative team that includes most of the high schools in Franklin County.

There was considerable discussion during the meeting surrounding Frontier’s decision to close in-person learning on Thursday and go fully remote beginning Friday through Jan. 4. Sunderland Board of Health Chair Caitlyn Rock questioned the decision to even discuss athletics with the move made by the district earlier on Thursday.

“If school boards feel it’s not safe for kids and staff to be educated together, I don’t understand how it’s safe to play basketball or how it’s safe to play hockey,” Rock said. “I just find this to be mind-blowing. I do feel sports are important for the social, emotional well-being of our children, but this needs very, very careful consideration.”

Committee member Damien Fosnot agreed that the timing of Thursday’s meeting was ironic considering Frontier halted in-person learning the same day.

“I think the optics probably do look bad with school being closed but kids playing sports are a choice,” he said. “I don’t think that making a decision right now with sports is necessarily any indication that (sports are) going to happen. It’s only planning for it. If that helps parents and students, with the realization that this might fall through come Jan. 4 or 11 ... at least we can plan for it. It might entice kids to have that hope.”

In meetings Wednesday night, Gateway Regional received approval to play basketball, while Mohawk Trail approved Nodic skiing. Hampshire Regional co-ops with Mohawk for Nordic.

On Tuesday, Easthampton approved competitive swimming, and practice only for basketball and ice hockey. Belchertown approved competitive swimming, practice only for basketball and no ice hockey.

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee approved boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and swimming and diving Tuesday. Girls hockey is co-op with Pope Francis.

Holyoke will offer basketball and swimming as long as the city is no longer classified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health metrics as being in red status for COVID-19 cases. The city needs to return to yellow status for three weeks in order to have sports next month, according to a message on the school’s website.

Pope Francis will offer basketball, boys and girls ice hockey, and alpine skiing.

The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley will offer varsity sports in basketball, alpine skiing and girls ice hockey through a cooperative with Longmeadow.

The Granby School Committee discussed winter sports at its Dec. 1 meeting, but did not vote. It will meet again within the next two weeks.

The South Hadley School Committee will take on the topic at Monday’s meeting.

The only sports not approved for the winter season by the MIAA are indoor track and wrestling. Indoor track was moved to the Fall II season, which will be held after winter and before the spring. Wrestling was moved to the spring.

Gazette staff writer Mike Moran, and Recorder staff writer Jeff Lajoie contributed to this report.



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