Fall sports will most likely be much different than ever before this coming season. The Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) officially voted on July 15 to move the start date of the fall sports season to Sept. 14.
The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) then released amended safety measures for sports activities on July 24. The EEA ranked sports in categories of “low risk,” “moderate risk,” or “high risk.” The category determines which of four levels of practice and play that sport may offer.
Level 1 includes individual or socially distanced group activities (no-contact workouts, aerobic conditioning, individual skill work, and drills). Level 2 includes competitive practices (intra-team or group games, contact drills, and scrimmages). Level 3 includes competitions (inter-team games, meets, matches, races, etc.). Level 4 includes outdoor tournaments.
High school sports are more than just a game for players and coaches. They serve as important arenas for teaching and learning.
“Sports teaches these kids so much,” said Nauset boys soccer Coach John McCully. “Discipline, working hard, making sacrifices, making commitments, managing your time in high school.”
The boys soccer team has achieved great success in recent years, including Division 2 state championships in two of the last four years (2016-17, 2018-19).
Soccer was originally placed in the “high risk” category, allowed only level 1 activities. But the amendments announced on July 24 moved the sport to “moderate risk,” which qualifies it for level 3 play.
McCully coaches a club team in Plymouth that’s part of the Liverpool Football Club International Academy. A few Nauset students play on the club team, which McCully said has been practicing all summer. But with the recent changes, the team can now start playing real games.
“I told the guys, let’s just make the most of the situation we’re in,” McCully said. “Let’s try to be positive, stay healthy and safe, and follow the guidelines. Let’s hope and pray that we’ll have some sort of fall season.”
Based on the recent guideline changes, those prayers might be answered.
Even if the boys and girls soccer teams are able to play games this season, it’s unclear what their schedules will look like, since the start date has been pushed back. McCully said he expects the MIAA to come out with guidelines for the number of games a team must play to qualify for postseason play and if nonleague or just interleague games will be allowed.
Nauset football might not be as lucky, as the sport remains on the “high risk” list.
“It’s tough,” Coach Bruce Strunk told the Independent. “Football is unique. It’s a collision sport and there’s a lot of contact. A lot more people are involved. If someone’s running the ball you might end up with five, six, seven guys in a pile.”
But Strunk said it’s a mistake to categorize football as the only true contact sport.
“There’s a lot of contact in those other sports as well,” he said.
Strunk is waiting for the Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education to offer guidelines on how school will proceed this fall. Once that happens, he said, he should have a better idea of how to put together a workout program for the football team.
Other fall sports at Nauset include boys and girls cross country, girls field hockey, girls volleyball, boys golf, and cheerleading. The only sports in the “low risk” category that qualify for normal play, including matches and outdoor tournaments, are cross country and golf.
Nauset Athletic Director John Mattson said the school plans on merging boys and girls cross country into one program this season and is currently looking for a new head coach.
There are still certain guidelines that all participants must follow this fall, no matter the sport they’re involved in.
“For team and group sports, no more than 25 players or participants can be on a single playing surface/area/court at any one time,” according to the EEA. “The number of coaches and staff should be limited. Larger playing areas and surfaces, such as athletic fields, tracks, and facilities that have multiple courts or playing areas, may be used by more than one group at one time, provided that adequate social distance and group separation can be maintained.”
Six-foot social distance and masks are required when participants are not actively engaged as well.
Strunk hasn’t been able to meet with his players face to face. He texts them to check in and has been sending conditioning workouts to all players to keep them engaged and in shape.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic whenever I chat or text them because I don’t want them to lose hope or be unprepared,” he said.
Nauset football might not have a follow-up season after winning the first ever playoff game in school history last season.
Both McCully and Strunk said they hope the absence of a normal sports season won’t affect the kids’ development, especially in high school.
“For young people, there’s different ways to build character, and sports is one of them,” Strunk said. “Sports affects a large group of kids in their development both mentally and physically.”