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Fall sports given new guidelines in makeshift season

Junior Andrew Nielsen steps up to steal the ball during a game last year against Brookline September 12, 2019. Boys’ soccer will begin training for the new season in the coming week. (photo by Ian Dickerman)

The School Committee voted Monday, Sept. 14 to approve the fall athletic plan proposed by the athletic department in accordance with MIAA rules for some high school athletics to go forward with the fall season. 

The sports to receive the green light to start their season on September 21 are field hockey, soccer, girls’ swim and dive, cross country, and golf, though there will be significant modifications to the way events are held in order to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

“It’s going to be different,” said athletic director Tom Giusti. “There is nothing that is going to be the same, and that is what we are trying to work on—how can we best accommodate kids athletically so that they are getting something out of it?”

The approved plan is only for the fall sports season and is based on recommendations from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental affairs (EEA). 

Football, Cheerleading, Girls’ Volleyball and Unified Basketball will likely be moved to a second fall season, which would take place in between the winter and spring seasons.

“We all want to work in the best interest of our students—our students in the school and our student-athletes on the field,” said Giusti.

Examples of sport modifications for COVID-19 include no headers in soccer, and a reduction in the number of players on the field in field hockey from 11 players per team to seven.

“Everything’s going to change,” said special education teacher Roy Dow, boys’ soccer’s head coach. “It’s a very different version of soccer and the hope is that everyone can handle this current situation so that this is the only season we play with these modifications.”

With the new regulation and guidelines, there will be a COVID-19 coach on every team to assist players in making sure that they are following the pandemic safety requirements. Furthermore, the COVID-19 coach will assist trainers and coaches in recognizing symptoms of COVID-19 among athletes.

Standard social distancing protocols will be in place. Everyone not on the field must wear a facemask, there will be no post-game handshakes, and spectators will be limited to 50 people.

Additionally, in a School Committee meeting September 10, Giusti, principal Henry Turner, South interim principal Mark Aronson, and South athletic director Patricia Gonzalez stressed the importance of making sports equitable for all, including the assurance that METCO students have access to transportation from home to practices and games. The four administrators also highlighted that giving students an outlet to interact with their peers, especially with school entirely virtual, would be one of the main objectives for the season.

The late end to the day at 3:55 under the new remote learning plan also poses a problem with scheduling practices and games. However, Giusti added that North plans to schedule later practices potentially using alternative fields with lights such as Albemarle Field. 

The Bay State Conference (BSC) is planning to only play games on Wednesday and Saturdays. On a game day, all North teams will play the same school in order to help with contact tracing should an athlete develop COVID-19. The BSC has also been restructured so that North will only play teams near Newton, specifically,  Brookline, Natick, Needham, and Wellesley. There will be no out of conference play or MIAA State Tournament. 

Despite the changes and the uncertainty, Dow said that the year will still have a lot to bring for everyone. “I think people are excited to be together,” he said. “Just getting together doing stuff together and being around one another.”

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