High schools across Massachusetts were scheduled to begin preseason training for fall sports in late August before the start date was twice pushed back to mid-September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coaches and athletes in cross-country, field hockey, golf, and soccer — the four sports that will be contested in Central Mass. this fall after meeting state safety standards — will finally begin practicing Friday.
However, that will not be the case in Worcester and Tyngsboro. Both communities were moved into the “highest risk” — or red — category by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday based on COVID-19 data collected from Aug 30 to Sept. 12.
Per DPH guidelines, schools in communities that are in the red are not allowed to participate in sports.
“Right now we’re postponed Friday and Monday,” Worcester Public Schools athletic director Dave Shea said Thursday. “It’s a lot better than saying the season is off.”
So for the time being the waiting game will be the only game played at Burncoat, Doherty, Main South, North, South, Worcester Tech, Notre Dame Academy, and St. Paul. Abby Kelley had already moved all fall sports to the fall II season.
“We knew this going in,” St. Paul AD Jim Manzello said. “If a city or a town goes red, sports are going to be postponed. I knew Worcester was up around that seven and a half, eight mark, so I was just keeping my fingers crossed hoping we didn’t go over. We did.
“But like I’m telling everyone, it’s not business as usual. There are a lot of moving parts to this and I tell everybody, every week, ‘There are changes and just be prepared for them.’ And that’s where we are.”
Shea found out Wednesday evening the city had jumped from 7.5 cases per 100,000 last week, which placed it in the yellow category, to 9.5, which is in the red. (Schools in the yellow can play with approval from their school committee, which all the Worcester schools had received.)
Manzello got the news via text from his field hockey coach, Julie Kruez, around the same time. Ten minutes later he took a call from Shea.
“I was just sitting down to dinner and I was wondering when I would get the phone call from Dave,” Manzello said. “He was like, ‘Did you hear?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ I don’t want to say you laugh about it, but it’s like, “Oh my god, what’s going to be next?’ But obviously this could happen to any town.”
Shea and Manzello began discussing the situation Wednesday night with their respective administrations. Those conversations continued Thursday morning with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education getting involved.
The impacted schools were informed about the postponement around 11 a.m. by the MIAA
“They told us that we cannot do any practices or games, we’re kind of in a postponed pattern until further notice,” Shea said. “They’re reaching back out to us by early next week, but we notified all our coaches and principals … that we’re postponed as of right now.”
Worcester and Tyngsboro are two of 17 communities in the red, up from 13 last week.
A meeting is scheduled for Monday morning that will include the chairs of the MIAA’s nine districts and a DESE rep among others, to determine how best to move forward. Nipmuc Regional AD Chris Schmidt (District 2) and Shrewsbury AD Jay Costa (District 3) will represent CMass.
“Because there are a lot of questions,” Shea said. “What happens if you jump in and then you jump out? What happens if you’re in for more than a week? When do we have to shut down? What happens if you start games and you turn red? When would you have to say it’s off until the fall II? So I guess that’s the stuff that is going to be discussed on Monday.”
Shea believes the MIAA is approaching an issue that is likely to pop up again — be it one, two or five months from now — with flexibility at the forefront because “it’s not a one-size-fits-all type thing right now.”
Added Manzello: “There are a lot of moving parts with this and there are a lot of people trying to do what’s right. But nobody knows. We’ve obviously never been through something like this before.”
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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