The MIAA announced on Tuesday (July 21) that it was pushing back the start date of fall sports in the state until at least Monday, Sept. 14.
Practices for football were originally to begin Friday, Aug. 21 and for all other sports the following Monday (Aug. 24).
The organization formed the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force Sub-Committee to help stay ahead of the situation. Task Force members were appointed and charged to determine appropriate measures for a safe return to MIAA athletics in alignment with guidelines set forth by Governor Charlie Baker, MA Department of Health (DPH) and MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
The Task Force, made up of 24 administrators and various representatives of high school athletics throughout the state, has been meeting for an hour or two each week since it was assembled in May.
It reported its recommendations to the MIAA Board of Directors at its meeting on Tuesday. The Task Force has been undergoing discussions with the above groups since early in the month.
The main two reasons for the pushed back start date: 1). they wanted to guard against possible COVID-19 infections before the start of classes; 2.) the need to get schools open first before allowing sports to begin.
The MIAA task force received more than 1,000 responses from administrators and coaches through a survey. All mentioned health and safety, mental health, and return to school for the student-athletes as priorities.
“This is not a big surprise,” said Woburn head football coach Jack Belcher. “It’s been here since March. I decided a while ago not to be that doom-and-gloom guy; there are a lot of them out there. OK, so this is not ideal, but we can handle it.”
Many questions remain about exactly when/if fall sports are to begin until the MIAA receives updates from the state.
Recently, the Massachusetts Phase III, Step 1, for youth and adult amateur sports and other recreational activities listed sports in three categories: Lower Risk, Moderate Risk and Higher Risk.
In the fall, sports like football and soccer were listed in the “higher risk” category while field hockey, cross country and volleyball have been classified as “moderate risk.” Golf and swimming are “lower risk” sports.
While Belcher is just sorting out his program’s next move, he did stress that it wouldn’t be the worse thing just to play a regular season without playoffs for this year.
“You can have a regular season without playoffs, but you can’t have playoffs without a regular season,” said Belcher. “Because we will be starting so late, just play league games. That would make every game huge for the league title. We’d still play Winchester and Liberty (Division) would play the Liberty and Freedom (Division) play the Freedom.”
Going forward Belcher said his team, along with other Woburn High fall sports athletes, have been taking advantage of an outdoor weight room that they have lugged outside onto the football practice field.
No more than 10 athletes at a time, kids have to wear masks, and he has volunteers to sanitize and wipe down the equipment.
“It doesn’t matter what your politics are, if you don’t follow the rules you can be shut down very quickly,” said the coach.
• In somewhat related news, the MIAA board approved the recommendation to suspend its post-game handshake line.