Across New England, schools are taking various actions when it comes to high school fall sports in a pandemic.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference put their fall sports season on hold. The Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs set restrictions on deliberate close contact, like tackling and collisions. The Vermont Principals’ Association made announcements outlining no tackle football and outdoor volleyball matches.
In Maine, decisions are likely to be made this week. The Maine Principal’s Association made a plan in July to continue traditional fall sports with shortened seasons. Individual sports committees have recommended postseason play. On Tuesday, the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee will meet to discuss these plans and the future of the fall season.
This changes original plans for practices to begin on Monday. In July, the MPA changed that start date to September 8. No competition gameplay will begin until at least September 18.
“We are working diligently to find a way to safely offer fall activities,” MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said last week. “We continue to work with each one of our individual sport committees, our MPA Sports Medicine Committee, and all of our educational partners here in Maine, as well as working with other states in New England, and throughout the country, as we discuss what a plan for the fall may look like here in Maine.”
”We are working diligently to find a way to safely offer fall activities.
Mike BurnhamMPA Executive Director
During a pandemic, there is no such thing as a sure plan, so changes are unsurprising. There’s a possibility that not all fall sports will return.
Take a look at North Carolina. The state had announced a delayed start of practices, from August 1 to September 1. This changed on Wednesday that all fall sports will be paused until early November, at the earliest. Football will commence in February.
“We want our young people to be able to play, but for sure we want them to be able to play in a manner that is safe and healthy,” said Que Tucker, commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, in a statement.
North Carolina isn’t alone. Thirty-six states plus the District of Columbia have made some type of change to their high school sports fall season. Fifteen of those will not offer tackle football this fall. Eight, including California, Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia, have delayed all interscholastic sports until at least November.
At the other end of the spectrum, fourteen states have made no changes to their seasons. Of those, eight are listed as in a state of “uncontrolled spread” according to COVIDexitstrategy.org, a website that tracks metrics on response to the virus outbreak. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Alabama already has five football teams in quarantine due to positive COVID-19 tests.
Maine is leading nationally when it comes to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. In a seven day period, from August 8-14, Maine had only 100 new cases, while Alabama had 8,965 during the same time. This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker. Also, Maine’s 14-day test positivity rate for infections was a nation-best 0.4 percent on Friday. This is important because it’s a key metric for determining potential spread.
Because of these statistics, the Maine Department of Education gave the go-ahead for all counties to resume in-person instruction for schools. When it came to sports, Maine had a plan. The MPA designed safety-first conditioning guidelines for athletes during the summer, delayed the start of team practices until after the start of the school year, and urged schools to schedule regional opponents to cut down on travel.
All things considered, it’s still impossible to protect all kids from the virus. Two student-athletes with a positive test result were reported at Foxcroft Academy. Located in Dover-Foxcroft in Piscataquis County, this was a first for Maine high schools. The school suspended sports activities.
It was surprising, as there had previously only been six cases for the entire pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this is probably foreshadowing what will come this fall, as we know the virus exists everywhere,” said Arnold Shorey, Foxcroft Academy’s Head of School, in a news release.
”We want our young people to be able to play, but for sure we want them to be able to play in a manner that is safe and healthy.
Que TuckerCommissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association
COVID-19 deaths among young people have been rare (56 deaths in the 5 to 18 age group nationwide). Unfortunately, death isn’t the only possible outcome of the virus. Medical research is increasingly finding a link to other associated diseases, including myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. This find was cause for major concern in the Big Ten Conference, which announced last week it was calling off all fall sports – even though eliminating football would mean a revenue hit of over $100 million per school.
“This one to me is a no-brainer. We do not have enough data and not enough time has passed to know if this type of damage to the heart and lung will be outgrown or not,” Dr. Rand McClain told the Press Herald. McClain specializes in sports medicine and is Chief Medical Officer of LCR Health in Santa Monica, California. “Will it resolve itself in three months or six months? I hope so, but for that alone, we should wait.”
McClain also acknowledged the downsides of not having fall sports. Taking away this outlet could cause a risk of depression, substance abuse, or a general lack of interest in school and other activities.
“That’s absolutely valid and absolutely applicable. What I would argue there is, when you’re out competing and playing against other teams, other athletes – and especially in a sport like football – then you’re subject to your opponent’s compliance to the rules. That’s why I would say, go run track or play tennis.”
The MPA’s Burnham has been staying atop of how other states are proceeding, specifically in the Northeast.
“We have certainly reviewed and discussed plans that other states have developed,” he said. “The six New England states, along with New York and New Jersey, meet weekly to update each other regarding the plans that each of us are working on.”
Connecticut and Maine have been following a similar path. Both states have created detailed plans, outlining multi-phase steps when it comes to returning to practices. Both also plan to reduce the number of total games during the fall sports season, as well as limited travel and reduced fan attendance.
Though Connecticut initially struggled, they have regained their footing on the virus as summer hit. As of Friday, their 14-day positivity rate was 0.8 percent. Connecticut’s path back to sports has been less straightforward.
Originally, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced that fall sports would move the season to spring. Then, they later shared that football and other sports will continue this fall.
“Based on the input from medical advisors and the continued positive COVID numbers in (Connecticut) while sports are being played, the Board believes it is appropriate to move forward with all fall sports, at this time,” the CIAC said in a statement
Following that statement, the Department of Public Health advised moving volleyball and football to spring, as well as to delay all sports until two weeks after the start of school. The CIAC agreed Friday to pause all team activities until meeting with the Department of Public Health about the fall season.
Vermont’s statistics on the virus most closely align with Maine. In the state, there have been little community transmission and single-digit new daily cases. Still, on Tuesday, Vermont announced that tackle football would not be played this fall. Instead, a 7-on-7 flag football option is available. Jay Nichols, the executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, believed the sport was too dangerous.
“A lot of it comes down to blocking and players being really close to each other – respiratory droplets on each other, breathing on each other, when a player is tackled there is a whole group of people together,” Nichols told the Burlington Free Press. “It became very clear that football is problematic.”
New Hampshire’s plan is similar in ways to the July MPA announcement for Maine. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is beginning a return to fall sports with later start dates and an open-tournament format. This is in efforts to encourage regional schedules and eliminate the minimum number of games required. All sports can begin practicing September 8.
Rhode Island is the New England state with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita and a positivity rate near 5 percent. The state plans for a four-season approach with no high school competition before October 2. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s guidelines allow for only cross country and girls’ tennis to be eligible to start October 2. Any fall sports that end up not being able to start then would have a season that begins after the winter sports season and before spring sports.
The road ahead leads to difficult decisions for all states.
Original Article By Portland Press Herald