WORCESTER — The wait is over for high school athletes and coaches from Worcester’s public and private schools who have been holding out hope of participating in a fall season for nearly four weeks.
And regrettably that’s disappointing news.
A meeting between school and city officials on Thursday afternoon resulted in a COVID-19 influenced decision to postpone all fall sports to the fall II season that is scheduled to begin in late February.
“I feel super bad for the kids and coaches,” Worcester Public Schools athletic director Dave Shea said. “It would have been more ideal to play now than in fall II, but when it comes to the safety and well-being of all our athletes, coaches and everyone involved, I have to side on caution and I have to listen to the people above me saying this is the best thing to do right now.”
The decision impacts Burncoat, Doherty, Main South, North, South and Worcester Tech along with Notre Dame Academy and St. Paul. Abby Kelly had already moved all fall sports to fall II.
So cross-country, field hockey, golf, and soccer will join the high-risk sports of football, girls’ volleyball, competitive cheering and unified basketball in a season wedged between the winter and spring that is scheduled to run from Feb. 22 to Apri. 25.
“The bottom line is I really do feel bad for the kids and I guess the only safety net here is they still have a chance to play in fall II,” Shea said. “We’re not sure how that’s going to look with fields and things like that, but it’s not the end right now, it’s postponed.
“So unlike what happened in the spring where everything got canceled and we never had a chance to make it up, there is still a chance — and a good chance — to be able to do that when fields open up, whether it’s later in March or all of April. We’re going to do our best to make sure we can get the kids out there to have the season that was just postponed.”
A twice-delayed start to high school sports finally began in Massachusetts with tryouts or workouts on Sept. 18.
However, two days earlier the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its weekly town-by-town COVID-19 numbers and Worcester had moved from the yellow (moderate risk) to red (highest) category. That meant it had an average of more than eight coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the previous 14 days.
Per state guidelines at the time, school districts that were in the red and completely doing remote learning were not allowed to participate in athletics.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, after taking its cue from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has since issued a directive that allows districts in the red more flexibility by allowing its superintendent and local board of health to approve sports participation.
But that four-week stay in the red for New England’s second-largest city was the driving force in the postponement, one that was made at a meeting at City Hall attended by, among others, WPS Superintendent Maureen Binieda, City Manager Edward M. Augusta Jr and Dr. Michael P. Hirsch, the city medical director.
Worcester’s numbers jumped from 7.5 to 9.5 in the Sept. 16 DPH report and, while they dropped to 8.9 and 8.3 the next two weeks, they climbed to 10.0 with the latest report, which was released Wednesday night.
Worcester is one of 40 communities in the state currently in the red, eight of which are in Central Massachusetts.
“It’s disappointing,” Notre Dame Academy athletic director Patty Provost said. “Obviously, the health and safety of our young athletes are prioritized. … We respect what happened, but disappointing and when we get an opportunity to go forward, we’ll be ready.”
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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