“Sports this fall definitely will look different than they have in the past.”
That was the reaction of Bedford High School Director of Athletics Keith Mangan after digesting the safety and reopening standards for youth sports activities, issued late last week by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).
They are marked effective August 17 and have been sent to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which will forward them to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA). Major changes are not expected, so before the end of this week, the policies in response to the ongoing pandemic will be official.
And if the state remains at the first level of Gov. Charlie Baker’s Phase 3 reopening schedule, they will dramatically affect winter sports as well. The first day of practice for basketball and hockey is in less than 15 weeks.
Mangan said he has meetings scheduled with BHS head coaches as well as with representatives of the Dual County, Middlesex Leagues, and Merrimack Valley Conference. They are addressing transportation and scheduling matters.
The athletics director did not comment specifically on the standards, as they are still moving through the approval process. He did note the importance of competitive sports from a social and emotional standpoint. Tom Tone, BHS head football coach, also was reluctant to comment before the recommendations become policy.
The report assigns sports to three levels, based on the risk of transmission of the virus. So the lowest level covers activities like golf and cross-country, where social distance is a given and there is no contact. Cross-country starts, however, will be staggered rather than in a group.
The “moderate” level is based on “intermittent close proximity or limited incidental physical contact.” The sports in this category include volleyball, field hockey, and soccer.
Football, basketball, and hockey are all at the highest risk level – when the activity includes “a requirement or a substantial likelihood of routine close and or sustained proximity or deliberate physical contact with a high probability that respiratory droplets could be transmitted.”
The recommendations also delineate “minimum mandatory standards” to regulate the degree of activity permitted in each category, including practice sessions and games.
For example, in a soccer contest, officials should “Strive to keep participants six feet apart for the majority of play and eliminate all deliberate contact.” At the highest risk level, players are prohibited from blocking, tackling, checking, colliding, or running in a pack.
Officials are advised to “minimize intermittent contact” by finding alternatives to throw-ins and faceoffs. There are also limits on the number of players and spectators.