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With governor’s order to keep schools closed, the MIAA spring sports season is effectively over

A sign at the Methuen High baseball field pretty much summed up the state of school sports in Massachusetts.
A sign at the Methuen High baseball field pretty much summed up the state of school sports in Massachusetts.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Nate Goldberg and his teammates on the Needham boys’ volleyball team were thirsting for a return to the court this spring and another run at a Division 1 title in June.

But the Rockets, South sectional champions four of the past five seasons, will not practice, huddle, attack the net, exchange high fives, or gear up for the tournament in this extraordinary spring of 2020.

Needham and all of the 380 member schools in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association will remain idle after Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that all public and private schools in the Commonwealth will remain closed through the remainder of the academic year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate said the MIAA’s Board of Directors will meet officially to go over the details.

“However, with school closed due to health concerns, opening up the playing fields for practices and games is not a sensible option,” he said. "My hope is that we are able to get teams together in some manner when things are deemed safer. "

A post from the MIAA’s Twitter account said, “Difficult news received from Governor Baker today. A formal BOD statement regarding the status of 2020 spring sports will be provided by week’s end.”

Goldberg, a senior captain at Needham and one of the state’s top defensive specialists (libero), said he was “super proud of the way my teammates and my coaches have responded to everything, knowing that we had a good team and could have made a really good run.”

And after the Needham girls had captured the MIAA Division 1 title last fall, the boys were shooting to make it a sweep.

“We wanted to be able to prove ourselves and show everyone that we could become the best team that we could be,” Goldberg said. “It kind of stinks that we didn’t have the opportunity to do that.”

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Athletic facilities at Lawrence High remained under lock and key Tuesday.
Athletic facilities at Lawrence High remained under lock and key Tuesday.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

In mid-March, Austin Prep senior Francesca Frelick and her teammates were unable to take the TD Garden ice for the Division 1 girls’ hockey final against Woburn because of coronavirus concerns. Now, the Duke University-bound senior from Lexington and her softball teammates will not be able to defend their D3 state title, either.

“Obviously it’s pretty disappointing, but given the circumstances, I think everyone understands why everything’s happening," said Frelick, who will play softball at Duke. "It’s for the safety of everyone. That’s the priority. We definitely understand, but it is disappointing.”

The MIAA initially had put the spring season on hold until the potential reopening of schools May 4.

A week ago, the Board of Directors unanimously passed all recommendations from the Tournament Management Committee regarding the structure of the spring sports season, including capping play with sectional tournaments.

But that hope has faded quickly.

“How do you close schools and still say that you can have sports?” said Burlington athletic director Shaun Hart, a member of the TMC.

Not having a regular season from late March to early June regular season is staggering for all. Then add the hammer of no postseason play.

In 2019, 34,718 student-athletes competed on 1,078 teams in the state, with 712 games and 31 events in MIAA tourneys.

“This is obviously devastating, especially for the seniors but for all of us who devote our lives to high school athletics," said Walpole High AD Ron Dowd, who also coached the Walpole boys’ hockey team to a D1 state final in March that was canceled.

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"I know how it was in the winter to not be able to play the state championship game, but at least we had a season.

"Much work goes into this for the kids, coaches, and parents. I understand and support the decision, but it does not make it any easier. Being an AD, I always say I coach all the teams. I can say without any reservation that I miss my kids.”

There were signs of support for the senior class posted on lawns in North Andover.
There were signs of support for the senior class posted on lawns in North Andover.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Revere girls’ softball coach Joe Ciccarello say he had no words to console his players.

“Only thing I tell them is that life never gives you more than you can handle, and how we react to what happens to us is so much more important than what happens,” he said.

Chris Sweet, who has directed Duxbury to nine MIAA boys’ lacrosse titles, knew that Tuesday’s decision was a real possibility, “But it still seems hard to believe,” he said.

"I hope we don’t look back and view it as a giant mistake. As painful as it is, let’s hope it’s the correct decision. My heart goes out to the seniors.”

In his announcement, Baker took a moment to salute those across the state who were denied their final run, and what has been lost, from championship games to field trips.

“They’ve all worked hard for four years and they look forward to the so-called last season, whether it’s to play lacrosse, run track, participate in a school play, go to the prom, graduate,” said Baker. "Because of COVID-19, a lot of this will not happen and some of it will happen in ways that are far different than anyone would have imagined it just a few months ago.”

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Craig Larson of the Globe staff, and correspondents Jim Clark, Jenna Ciccotelli, Trevor Hass, and Nate Weitzer contributed to this report.