‘Why can’t we do it?’: Northampton football players call on health officials to let them play

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  • About a dozen Northampton High School athletes hold a rally Monday outside Northampton City Hal in support of allowing the Blue Devils football team to compete in the Fall II season in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School football junior Dominic Badorini is interviewed outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, during a rally in support of allowing the Blue Devils to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Braeden Tudryn, a senior at Hopkins Academy and a member of the Northampton High School football team, is interviewed outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, during a rally in support of allowing the Blue Devils to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • About a dozen Northampton High School athletes hold a rally outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in support of allowing the Blue Devils football team to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School junior Connor Tobin stands with members of the football team outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, during a rally in support of allowing the Blue Devils to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • About a dozen Northampton High School athletes hold a rally outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in support of allowing the Blue Devils football team to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School seniors Seth Finnessey, left, Brett Holden and Ed Sarafin are interviewed Monday outside Northampton City Hall during a rally in support of allowing the Blue Devils football team to compete in the Fall II season in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of the Northampton High School football team hold a rally outside Northampton City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in support of allowing the Blue Devils to compete in the Fall II season in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2021 7:34:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Standing on City Hall steps in nearly freezing temperatures, Northampton High School senior Edward Sarafin told his teammates, “Football is worth it.”

A dozen Blue Devils gathered Monday holding signs that said “science said it’s safe to play” and “don’t sack sports” to protest the city health department’s lack of clearance for high school football in the Fall II bridge season between winter and spring. The health department didn’t address the players concerns at a meeting Thursday.

“We’re not being heard. Since other schools can have sports and other sports can have seasons within our school, I think speaking for football, that’s unfair and we can meet in the middle and have a season,” Northampton senior Brett Holden said.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association approved the Fall II season, including football, to begin Monday statewide at a Jan. 29 meeting. The Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference decided to start its season March 1, which supersedes the MIAA designation. Many area schools, including Amherst and South Hadley, have already allowed football and other sports.

Football is considered a “high risk” sport by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Games are only allowed to be contested outside. Initially practices needed to be outside as well, but the EEA updated those guidelines because the MIAA has rules about the minimum number of practices that can be conducted before football games can be played, and allowing indoor practice for football let teams be flexible in case of bad weather or poor field conditions.

There are COVID-19 related rules and guidelines teams must follow including wearing masks, spacing out on the sidelines and not huddling to prevent more close contact than necessary.

“With the regulations, I think you can have a safe season of football. We’ve been practicing and lifting since we were freshmen,” Northampton junior Dominic Badorini said. “Having this taken away from us it feels like that hard work went to nothing.”

Not many athletes at Northampton have competed since the fall season. Northampton Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary issued a health order Nov. 7 that prohibited “all sports and recreation activities that involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and a high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants” until further notice. The order remains in effect.

“I did not know about the protest. My days and evenings are spent at our regional vaccine clinic in Northampton,” O’Leary said in a message relayed through the health department. “The board of health did not table anything. The sports order was not on the agenda for discussion. During public comment we listened to people’s comments and concerns. The next step is that we will look at data to see if now is a good time to amend or rescind the original order.”

The Northampton School Committee approved sports for the winter season, but only alpine skiing competed because of the rise in COVID cases. Swimming and basketball pushed their seasons to Fall II. Indoor track will also compete but may be limited to practices that will be conducted outdoors depending on access to the facility at Smith College.

Since Northampton has moved back to a hybrid schooling model, the school committee likely won’t need to approve sports as it did in the fall and winter when the district was remote. The decision lands with O’Leary and the health department.

“At the meetings, there was no facts used, there was no real evidence as to why we can’t play, which I think is preposterous,” said Braeden Tudryn, a Hopkins Academy senior who plays football for Northampton. “Wearing a mask significantly declines the ability to transmit the disease. We’ll be playing football outside. Practice started today across the state. Why can’t we do it?”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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