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MIAA sets Dec. 14 start date for winter season, with modifications for basketball and hockey

Unlike the Division 2 semifinal between Whitman-Hanson and Beverly last March at TD Garden, players will have to wear masks this season.
Unlike the Division 2 semifinal between Whitman-Hanson and Beverly last March at TD Garden, players will have to wear masks this season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The MIAA Board of Directors voted Friday to approve a Dec. 14 start to the winter season — which will include modified versions of basketball and ice hockey, as well as Alpine and Nordic skiing, gymnastics, and swimming & diving.

The board also approved recommendations to move indoor track to the Fall II season (which begins Feb. 22), and wrestling to the spring season (April 26).

The board made a handful of significant changes to recommendations from the COVID-19 Task Force, which met Wednesday and acted upon proposed modifications from individual sport committees as well as the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee.

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Much of the discussion during the near two-hour virtual meeting centered around three key issues:

▪ The Dec. 14 start date: The Task Force had voted 12-7 to recommend a Dec. 10 start to the winter season, but many board members expressed concern with COVID-19 metrics as students return from the Thanksgiving break, and wanted to give as much of a window as possible before starting winter sports.

“I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that we have to be aware of the virus and the potential spikes that happen after we come back from Thanksgiving. That’s a major concern in our district,” Oliver Ames principal Wes Paul said.

Board member Dan Shine, the Arlington Catholic athletic director, pushed to keep the Nov. 30 start date approved by the board last month, and allow individual leagues or districts to start later if they choose. He was the lone dissenter in a 20-1 vote.

Several Eastern Mass. leagues — including the Bay State Conference, Dual County League, and Patriot League — already had pushed back the start of the winter season. Central Mass. previously approved a Dec. 14 start of practices, and the Mid-Wach League announced Friday it will have a “dead period” from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, with competition in basketball, gymnastics, and swimming starting no earlier than Jan. 8. The Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced earlier this week that its Western Mass. schools will start Jan. 4.

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Shine, the longtime boys’ hockey coach at AC, also was concerned that hockey players will continue with other opportunities to play while they await the MIAA season.

“The fact that these kids are going to be playing on [travel] teams all over the state, and we have no idea of where they’re going, who they’re with,” he said. “I believe that we can control them if they’re under our jurisdiction, much better than if they’re not.”

Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate, who co-chaired the Task Force, said the safety of the full school population should be the priority.

“We work for schools, and the big thing that we need to be cognizant of is the fact that we need to keep our schools open,” Holdgate said. “If our sports teams could lead to our schools shutting down because of a spike, I think all of us can see the rationale — you wouldn’t want to be put in that situation.”

▪ Distancing in hockey: Board members expressed concern as to how well players will be able to be spaced on benches during play, as well as protocols for between periods, pre-game, and post-game.

The board unanimously passed the hockey modifications, which include an overall reduction of gameday rosters from 22 players to a maximum of 20, with an amendment to say that “rink design respective of social distancing may dictate total players that may participate in a contest.”

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“There’s no question, this is not going to be easily done,” Shine said, adding that schools, leagues, and rink personnel will have to work on the spacing issues, and that some rinks might not fit the requirements to host games this winter.

Rink availability already is an issue in some parts of the state, particularly those on college campuses (Endicott, UMass, Amherst College among them) that are closed to the public.

Among the few game-related hockey modifications were faceoffs (wings start 6 feet apart), corner scrums (maximum one player per team, officials can blow dead at any time), and distancing in penalty boxes. Locker rooms will be closed (other than for bathroom use), and “participants must wear-in/wear-out clothes or dress in the parking lot or other designated area.”

▪ Of a lengthy list of basketball modifications, the lone one discussed was a change from 12 to 15 players allowed on a game day roster, with a subsequent change from 15 to 18 total personnel overall. Social distancing once again was a concern, but board members also believed the smaller rosters would restrict opportunities for players. The board voted 11-9 to approve the recommended change.

“If there are some cases where there are smaller gyms, and you can only hold that many kids on a roster, then that can be an individual school decision to make,” Cambridge AD Tom Arria said. “I don’t think we should blanket it and limit it … and take away playing opportunities for some other kids.”

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Modifications for skiing, gymnastics, and swimming/diving all passed unanimously with no board discussion. Mask use is required for all sports, except during competition in gymnastics and swimming/diving.

The move of indoor track to Fall II, approved by a 17-3 vote, was done more for facilities issues rather than safety. The MIAA Track & Field Committee recommended the change, saying that Reggie Lewis Center and other college venues would not be available until Jan 1 at the earliest.

Wrestling, which is classified as a “higher-risk” sport with frequent contact, would not have been approved for Level 3 (competition) for the winter under the current guidelines set forth by the state’s Executive Office or Energy and Environmental Affairs. MIAA liaison Phil Napolitano told the board that a move to Fall II still would have required the sport to be played indoors, and that moving it to the spring gives wrestling a better path to be cleared for competition. Napolitano also said there is greater conflict of participation between wrestling and football, which currently is allowed to play in Fall II because it is outdoors.

“Wrestling in the spring has several more hurdles to clear before becoming a reality,” Napolitano told the board, which voted 19-3 in favor of the move. “We simply ask you for the gift of time.”


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