Tonight would have been the fourth game of the high school football season if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Realistically there was little to no hope of a normal season this fall. However, there was some hope that teams would be allowed organized out-of-season football practices. The MIAA has granted leagues that option of practicing a sport out of season during these strange times.
However, the Middlesex League, and most other leagues (i.e. Bay State and Hockomock), felt that wasn’t a good idea and limiting large gathering and groups was in the best interest in all.
So, quite simply, Middlesex League football players, who are not playing another fall sport, cannot practice football-specific workouts organized through their coaches. They are limited to conditioning drills which entail weightlifting and running. Coaches can provide such workouts, but again, cannot implement football specific practices.
“I understand,” said Reading coach John Fiore. “We are still in Phase 1 and we cannot have that kind of close contact with kids against kids. I know we all miss playing at this time of the year. We are hopeful that everything will be ready to work come Feb. 22.”
Reading High Athletic Director Tom Zaya indicated that if the league allowed football to practice out of season, they would also have to allow for time for volleyball, girls swimming — and even spring sports if they wanted to.
Football, as well as competitive cheerleading, volleyball and girls swimming, was moved to Fall II. That is an extra season the MIAA put together that will run from Feb. 22-April 25. There is certainly nothing to guarantee that season will come off. There is also no game schedule in place yet, but Fiore believes perhaps they could be playing football on Friday night, March 12.
“There is a chance of snow for sure, but there is also a chance in November,” said the Rocket coach. “I know I am planning on wearing my November gear then and finishing (hopefully) in my summer gear in April.”
Reading’s conditioning workouts have just about exclusively been relocated to Athletic Evolution in Woburn, which is owned by Reading High Athletic Hall of Famer Erik Kaloyanides. It has been that way for the past few years so that hasn’t changed.
“Erik’s been great to us and we are very lucky to have him helping us,” said Fiore.
Even though noting football specific can be organized through Fiore and his staff doesn’t mean his players haven’t taken matters into their own hands.
“I’ve gotten a few calls about 30-40 kids on a field in town working out,” he relayed. “That is nothing we organized, but kids will be kids. I certainly would rather have them be doing that than have 30-40 kids in the woods doing (who knows what)?”
In Woburn, head coach Jack Belcher’s positive outlook and attitude have certainly been put to the test this season. Yet, he remains upbeat in leading his program and instilling that same outlook in his team.
“We’re in this together. That will never change. Just deal with the facts as they come. Day at a time. Maybe, hour at a time,” he has posted on his Twitter site.
Belcher, who played in the league at Stoneham High, took over the Tanner program in 2017.
“We were lucky enough to move some weights outside back in May because indoor lifting was not allowed (back then),” he texted. “That was Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Now we go Monday, Tuesday and Friday.”
The Merrimack Valley Conference, where Reading native and Woburn resident Duane Sigsbury is head coach at Billerica High, is a league that can do football specific workouts.
Sigsbury had 104 kids come out on Monday and he indicated they will practice twice a week. No pads of course.
No local high school football this fall certainly has hit home in these parts. And let’s not even discuss no Thanksgiving Football. That concept is way too difficult to think about right now.