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With Worcester now ‘red’, schools postpone start of Fall I sports

Worcester Public Schools postponed the start of the Fall I high school season on Thursday afternoon after the city’s Department of Public Health metric changed to “red.”

David Shea, the athletic director for the city’s seven public schools, told the Globe the Fall I season scheduled to begin Friday with practices city-wide was “postponed for now.”

In data released Wednesday by the Department of Public Health, Worcester’s 14-day rate of cases per 100,000 population jumped to 9.5, above the state’s threshold of 8 cases per 100,000 to be designated as “red” or higher-risk status.

According to guidance released last month by the EEA regarding the return of high school sports, districts designated as red “must postpone their entire season, including practices, until the floating season later in the year.”

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During a news conference Thursday, Worcester Public Schools superintendent Maureen Binienda said based on the guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as well as the MIAA, the scenario would have been different had the Fall I season officially started.

“We called [DESE commissioner Jeffrey Riley] and the MIAA today,” Binienda said, "[to ask] would we be able to just postpone, and wait to see if the ‘red’ goes down and we go back into [a lower metric] so that we could resume sports for the fall season.

“The response is that right now, they’re postponed.”

Binienda said the city expects new guidance from DESE and the MIAA next Tuesday, at which time the city will make a further determination on Fall I sports.

The postponement affects athletic programs at seven high schools in the second-largest city in Massachusetts — Burncoat, Doherty, Worcester North, Worcester South, and Worcester Tech, as well as University Park Campus School and Claremont Academy.

Those seven schools had been placed together — along with Notre Dame Academy and the new St. Paul (merger of Holy Name and St. Peter-Marian) — in one of the nine pods created for Fall I sports in Central Mass. Shea told the Globe last month the plan was for those schools to compete in a single pod so that any possible change to Worcester’s Department of Public Health wouldn’t affect schedules for schools outside the city.

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St. Paul athletic director Jim Manzello told the Globe in an email that his school also is postponing the start of Fall I sports, with the hope that “we can get going sooner rather than later.”

As of Thursday afternoon, there was no word on the status of Notre Dame regarding Fall I sports. But in an email sent to parents Thursday afternoon, NDA said it was postponing its Fall 1 season, but will continue to closely monitor the COVID numbers.

The Worcester School Committee voted 6-1 earlier this month to allow Fall I competition for boys' golf, boys' and girls' cross country, boys' and girls' soccer, and field hockey. Football statewide had been moved to Fall II by a vote last month of the MIAA’s Board of Directors, while the Central Mass. Athletic Directors Association also voted to move girls' volleyball to Fall II.

Abby Kelley Foster, a charter school also located in Worcester, previously had decided independently not to compete in Fall I sports. Five other schools in Central Mass. — Assabet Valley, Keefe Tech, Monty Tech, Sizer School, and Trivium School — also have opted out of Fall I sports.

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The Mid-Wach League, which comprises 26 public schools in Central Mass., announced that it is limiting attendance at all Fall I events to a maximum of 50 spectators from the host school.

In a joint release by the league’s athletic directors, the discretion for allowing spectators will be left to the individual schools. Each student-athlete will receive two passes for family members, which must be worn at all times while in attendance. Spectators also must wear a face covering and practice social distancing.

The Mid-Wach also voted not to waive MIAA Rule 40 regarding out-of-season coaching, with the exception of a limited opportunity for Fall I sports that have been moved to Fall II.

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The Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which oversees the majority of District 1 schools in Western Mass., also released its guidance for Fall I sports.

Schools in Hampshire and Hampden counties are broken into two pods each for cross county and soccer, with a separate pod for schools in the City of Springfield. Field hockey and girls' volleyball were broken into two divisions each.

Soccer, field hockey, boys' golf, and girls' volleyball will play schedules of 10-12 games within their pods. Cross country is limited to 5-6 meets, while the five schools that compete in girls' gymnastics will have 4-6 meets.

Only home fans will be allowed at any contest. No fans will be allowed at indoor volleyball matches — Amherst was the only school to vote to play girls' volleyball outdoors.

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The PVIAC also is waiving MIAA Rule 40 to allow out-of-season coaching only for sports moved to Fall II.

Schools in Franklin County will compete in a pod that will be limited to boys' golf, cross country and field hockey. Berkshire County schools that voted to allow Fall I sports will compete in a single pod for golf and cross country.

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With Austin Prep shutting down all in-person activities for two weeks after a report of roughly 40 upperclass students attended a weekend party, the start of athletics has been pushed back to Tuesday, Sept. 29. The first potential game in the Catholic Central League will be Oct. 12.


Jim Clark can be reached at jim.clark@globe.com.