WORCESTER — Eight high schools in Worcester will remain in a holding pattern for another week before determining whether four fall sports will begin play in early October or late February.
Worcester Public Schools athletic director Dave Shea spoke with superintendent Maureen Binienda on Wednesday night immediately after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its latest town-by-town COVID-19 metrics.
They agreed to wait until next week’s numbers come out before plotting the next course of action for cross-country runners, golfers, and field hockey and soccer players at Burncoat, Doherty, Main South, North, South and Worcester Tech.
“Obviously we looked at the data, so the pattern, the trend, is going in the right direction,” Shea said Thursday. “After speaking with the superintendent last night, we’re waiting one more week and then we’ll make a decision on Oct. 7 (when the next set of metrics come out).”
Shea spoke Thursday morning with Jim Manzello and Patty Provost, his counterparts at St. Paul and Notre Dame Academy, respectively, and they’re on board with that safe strategy.
The trio have been working together as the eight schools they represent have been placed in the same geographic pod, a system Central Mass. is utilizing to limit travel and make it easier to implement contact tracing should it be necessary.
“We’re all in the same pod, so everyone is in the same boat,” Manzello said earlier in the week. “And when you stick together it makes it a little bit easier because you can bounce stuff off one another.”
Worcester remained in the red — or highest risk — category for the third straight week. Per DPH guidelines, communities in the red, meaning they have an average of more than eight cases per 100,000 residents, are not allowed to participate in athletics.
That said, because the data has trended downward — from 9.5 to 8.9 to 8.3 cases per 100,000 residents — the city’s public and private schools could have sought a waiver to allow tryouts or workouts to begin in the coming days.
That would have required gaining the approval of the Worcester Department of Public Health.
“I don’t want to speak for Maureen, but I think from her perspective it was, ‘OK, I know the timeline the schools, meaning us, St. Paul and Notre Dame, would have to have a cut-off line to decide,’ ” Shea said.
“She just wants to check one more week of data to show that it’s in that direction. Which, like I said, we were very happy to see it was going down.”
If Worcester returns to the yellow — or moderate risk — category it’s free to start up on its own per state guidelines. If it remains in the red, it will need the aforementioned city approval, something that is more likely to occur if the number, should it not drop further, at least remains around 8.3 cases.
The fall season was twice delayed before the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association settled on a start date of Sept. 18, and an end date of Nov. 20. Six days of preseason practice are needed for golf and 14 for cross-country, field hockey and soccer before competitions can begin.
So even if tryouts or workouts were to begin late next week there is still time to get in the season as its already been shortened in terms of the number of games each team will play and the elimination of regional and state tournaments.
If the Worcester schools don’t play this fall they can move cross-country, field hockey, golf and soccer to fall II, where those sports would join football, girls’ volleyball, unified basketball and competitive cheering in a season scheduled to run from Feb. 22 to April 25. (That’s a decision Abby Kelly has already made.)
But the overwhelming preference is to play now.
“We’re going to try to do everything that we can to play this fall because the fields are going to be so much better now than the possibility of February and March here in New England,” Shea said. “So we’re trying to hold off until the very last day that we can.”
And should the fall season start, but be stopped before a school or league has completed 50% of its competitions, all is not lost. There is an option to request to the MIAA District Athletic Committee that those impacted fall sports be moved to another season.
Worcester and Marlboro (10.2 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 8.4) remain the only two communities in the red in CMass after Tyngsboro dropped to yellow Wednesday. All told, there are 23 communities in the red in the state, all but three of which are in Eastern Mass.
However, Auburn, Clinton, Douglas, Dudley, Holden, Lancaster, Littleton, Maynard, Northboro, Rutland, Shrewsbury, Southbridge, Spencer, Uxbridge and Westboro are all in the yellow and bear watching.
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG
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