The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is making plans for a fall season, one the Board of Directors voted Tuesday to delay the start of from late August until Sept. 14.
But the board also repeatedly acknowledged the possibility of high school sports being played in the coming months is dependent on the directives of, among others, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
As for when the MIAA might hear from the DESE and EEA, well, it appears sooner rather than later.
“I think you’ll see some recommendations come in early August,” DESE commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley told the board during its first meeting of the 2020-21 school year. “We recognize sports are something that sometimes start before the school year starts and people are anxious for the information.
“But we really just want to make sure we do a thorough process, take our time and use the best medical information available to make sure if we do bring sports back it’s in a safe manner and what those modifications would look like.”
In the meantime, the MIAA is preparing a plan that emphasizes safety above all else for athletes, coaches, and support staff because it “would be irresponsible on our part” not to, said Marshfield Public Schools superintendent and board president Jeff Granatino.
To that end, a COVID-19 Task Force was formed in late May and has met weekly for the past eight weeks to come up with recommendations for ensuring sports can be played in a safe manner should the state allow so.
The board unanimously approved three recommendations presented by the task force following a 30-minute presentation that attracted a whopping 85 participants, including scores of media members, for the virtual meeting. They were:
• Compliance with the forthcoming joint guidelines published by the DESE and EEA regarding sports in the fall for youth and K-12.
• The previously mentioned start date of Sept. 14 — for practice — for fall sports that are permitted under the forthcoming guidelines
• That the board meet three business days after the release of the forthcoming guidelines to discuss the fall season and consider additional recommendations by the task force.
Central Mass. is represented on the task force by Leominster principal Steve Dubzinski and on the board by Grafton principal Jim Pignataro and Millbury assistant principal Pat Mara (District 2) and Westboro principal Brian Callaghan and Quabbin Regional athletic director Mark Miville (District 3).
While the 24 members of the task force compiled the recommendations, they did so with input from more than 1,000 members of the high school community via a statewide survey. It was returned by 137 superintendents, 47 principals, 205 athletic directors, 637 coaches, and 51 trainers.
The results of the survey listed the highest priority as being the health and safety of student-athletes and athletic staff members. Other priorities were: mental health of students, a return to school before a return to sports — thus the Sept. 14 start date — and an emphasis on regular-season play versus postseason tournaments.
“The insight that we’re gathering and still culling through is really helpful to us as we continue,” said MIAA associate executive director Sherry Bryant, who is serving on the task force.
Work of the task force going forward includes a recommendation regarding tournament play for the school year, reviewing health and safety guidelines being developed by the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee and providing information to schools on the transportation of student-athletes once DESE releases its guidelines on that topic.
In a related item, the board unanimously approved to suspend the mandatory postgame handshake rule for what MIAA executive director Bill Gaine termed “obvious” reasons.
Cross-country, field hockey, boys’ golf, soccer, and girls’ volleyball all would have started practicing Aug. 24 and could have held their first contest Sept. 6 with the exception of golf, which could have begun playing matches Aug. 31 as there’s less need for practice due to the conditioning requirements of the sport.
Football would have started Aug. 21 with the caveat that every player had 15 days of practice — the key word being days and not sessions — prior to the first game, which couldn’t have been held any earlier than Sept. 8.
States across the country have taken various approaches to the resumption of high school sports, some pushing back the start of the season by a few weeks and others by many months with others remaining on schedule.
California announced Monday it would postpone athletics until December or January while the same day Florida opted to maintain its schedule, meaning football practice can start next Monday.
Per the Washington Post, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia have delayed the start of the fall season. In addition, New Mexico, Virginia and D.C. already have canceled football.
As for New England, according to MaxPreps, Connecticut remains on schedule with football beginning Aug. 17, and all other sports Aug. 27; Maine began holding conditioning drills July 6, although many schools are waiting until August; and Rhode Island remains open to fall sports returning, while there is no news out of New Hampshire and Vermont.