By SCOTT JACKSON
Most high school sports teams will be able to go ahead with their seasons this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, but football and cheerleading have been pushed to a new floating season that would start later in the academic year.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association on Tuesday issued new guidance on high school athletics for the upcoming school year.
“Sports can be an important part of a well-rounded educational experience, even during the current public health crisis. Notwithstanding the risks associated with COVID-19, organized physical activity should be encouraged, within clear health and safety parameters,” the DESE and MIAA said. “Most sports can be played in ways that minimize those risks.
“In many cases, that will mean that inter-scholastic competitions may not look the same and may need to be played under fairly stringent restrictions with modified rules. Unfortunately, in some cases, competitive play may need to be cancelled or postponed. While difficult for all involved, it is essential that we keep health and safety paramount, both for everyone directly involved and the wider community.”
The new guidance allows most fall sports teams – including golf, cross-country, field hockey, soccer, gymnastics, girls’ volleyball and fall swimming and diving – to begin their seasons on Sept. 18.
Three sports – football, cheerleading and unified basketball – would not be allowed to go ahead with their seasons on that date. Those teams, however, would be allowed to practice starting on Sept. 18 and could begin playing games during a floating season that would start sometime later in the school year.
The DESE and MIAA guidance does not include start dates for the winter or spring sports seasons. The guidance also notes that higher-risk sports that play during those seasons – including hockey, basketball, wrestling, boys’ lacrosse and rugby – might also have their seasons pushed back to a floating season.
The guidance also sets new rules for athletics in districts with remote-only learning.
Districts designated as “red” based on the Department of Public Health’s metrics, and thus have their students learning remotely, must postpone their entire season, including practices, to the floating season.
Districts designated as “yellow,” “green” or “unshaded” by the DPH that also have high school students learning remotely can participate in the regularly scheduled season with approval from the local school committee.
The guidance states that the MIAA “will develop a timeline for looking at data prior to the start of each season to determine which color-coded designation a district should fall into for the purposes of engaging in sports.” It suggests, for example, that Sept. 1 could be used as date to determine initial eligibility for the fall season, which could be rechecked on Oct. 1.