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High School Sports

New guidelines set for Mass. high school sports: No football in the fall, extra ‘floating’ season

Francesca Yanchuk (left) and Bishop Feehan won Division 1 state title last November. But will sport modifications restrict close contact for defenders this fall?
Francesca Yanchuk (left) and Bishop Feehan won Division 1 state title last November. But will sport modifications restrict close contact for defenders this fall?Debee Tlumacki

NEW: Four-season plan for high school sports approved, but there won’t be state championships or football this fall

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association now has a road map to proceed with a fall season, albeit minus football until at least late winter, with a modified schedule for sports that have received approval from the state’s office of Environmental and Energy Affairs (EEA) and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Citing the importance athletics hold for a well-rounded education experience — even during the COVID-19 pandemic — DESE sent guidelines to school administrators Tuesday evening for modified sports seasons for 2020-21. Included are approved sports for the fall season, proposed winter and spring seasons, as well as a fourth “floating season” between winter and spring for “sports unable to play in earlier seasons.” Any sports played during the winter, floating, and spring seasons would be subject to updated EEA guidelines.

“Organized physical activity should be encouraged, within clear health and safety parameters,” read the DESE statement. “Most sports can be played in ways that minimize those risks. In many cases, that will mean that inter-scholastic competitions may not look the same and may need to be played under fairly stringent restrictions with modified rules.

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“Unfortunately, in some cases, competitive play may need to be cancelled or postponed.”

Based on statewide data, the fall sports deemed “low” or “moderate” risk — cross-country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, girls’ volleyball, fall swimming & diving, and soccer — may be held during their normal seasons, with a start date of Friday, Sept. 18.

The “higher” risk sports — football, cheer, and unified basketball — will only be allowed to practice.

According to the guidelines, the proposed winter sports would include gymnastics, indoor track, skiing, dance, winter swimming/diving, cheer, hockey, basketball, and wrestling. The spring season would include girls’ golf, baseball, softball, tennis, boys’ volleyball, lacrosse, track and field, and rugby.

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The higher risk sports in later seasons, including basketball, hockey, wrestling, boys’ lacrosse, and rugby, will continue to be evaluated in light of health metrics and EEA guidance.

Regarding participation for remote learners, school districts in municipalities designated as “red” based on the Department of Public Health’s metric (average daily cases per 100,000 residents) must postpone their entire season, including practices, until the floating season later in the year.

According to the DESE guidance, “the MIAA will develop a timeline for looking at data prior to the start of each season to determine which color-coded designation a district should fall into for the purposes of engaging in sports.” As of Tuesday, 11 of the 351 cities or towns in Massachusetts were in the “red” category, according to data released by the state.

Districts designated as yellow, green, or unshaded based on DPH metrics — and have their students learning remotely — may delay their fall season to the floating season. Any school district in those three categories doing remote-only learning may still participate in the fall season, pending approval of its local school committee.

There are no assigned dates for the start of the winter, floating, or spring seasons, based on the DESE guidelines. However, it is possible that the MIAA Board of Directors could set dates for any of those proposed seasons if it agrees to the plan during its meeting Wednesday.

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A 24-member MIAA COVID-19 Task Force was formed in May, and has been co-chaired by Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate and St. John’s Prep principal Keith Crowley. The task force has met regularly over the past three months, and presented its recommendations to the board last month. The board voted unanimously to postpone the start of the fall season until at least Sept. 14 while awaiting final guidance from the EEA (received last week) and DESE.

The MIAA’s COVID-19 Task Force, following the EEA guidelines, and in consultation with DESE, will present the plan to its Board of Directors on Wednesday morning for ratification. Those guidelines, according to the statement, “are subject to change throughout the school year.” The Board of Directors last month unanimously approved the task force’s recommendation of compliance with the guidelines from the EEA, which were released last week, and DESE.

The MIAA, in consultation with its medical advisors and the EEA, will develop sport-specific modifications to meet guidance “from EEA for issuance prior to each season.” Modifications include eliminating “deliberate contact, modifying or eliminating intermittent contact, and increasing distancing.”

Globe correspondent Jim Clark contributed to this story.


Craig Larson can be reached at craig.larson@globe.com.