Whether you call it the Fall II season, or the “floating” or “wedge” season, this period of athletic practice and competition in the late winter and spring is sure to be unique.
The MIAA adjusted its athletic calendar to create a fourth season from Feb. 22 to April 25 when it decided to postpone football this past fall. The period is open for schools to make up any fall sports that were also postponed, as well as for unified basketball, but football is the main draw.
And for some coaches, the season is quite literally wedged into their schedule.
Ross Jatkola is the head football coach and girls’ basketball coach at Barnstable, which is still competing in the Cape & Islands tournament this week. So on Monday, Jatkola will conduct football tryouts — potentially in a parking lot because of field conditions — from 3 to 4:30 p.m. before racing over to the gymnasium to coach his team in a first-round playoff game against Dennis-Yarmouth.
“Logistically, this is going to be interesting,” said Jatkola, who starred at Dennis-Yarmouth and the University of Albany before his hire at Barnstable in 2018. On top of his dual coaching responsibilities, Jatkola has two infants at home.
“You’ve got to make sure the girls’ [basketball team is] getting my full attention because they’re playing for a championship. I feel confident in my [football] staff that if I have to leave early, or even miss a day, everything is in place, everything scheduled for weeks and months and if you look at guys that coach in winter sports and go to Gillette [for a Super Bowl], there is overlap, so it’s not the first time this has happened.”
Neither is it the first time New England football programs will battle the elements and shoddy field conditions, but instead of a walkthrough to prepare for a playoff game, players will be trying out and learning their system in a gym, parking lot, snow-covered field, or even a tennis court in some instances.
Rockland coach Nick Liquori said he hopes that some warm rain on Monday will melt the snow on the Bulldogs’ grass field. If not, he plans to split his team into two cohorts for separate one-hour indoor sessions, and potentially use the school’s parking lot and tennis courts for some outdoor drill work.
“In a normal season, you’re far enough along by the time there’s snow that practice time isn’t as important,” said Liquori, who led Rockland to 13 consecutive wins in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
“The one advantage is we have 15 seniors returning and eight or nine starters on each side of the ball, so we can hit the ground running a bit. If it wasn’t so icy, we could do drills, but for now we’re trying to find creative ways to get these guys working, and clearing the field by shoveling is a possibility.”
Some programs are leaving campus to find playable fields.
Greater Lowell has secured a rental at Tyngsboro Sports Center since the Gryphons are unable to clear their grass field. With student-athletes attending the vocational school from several area towns, there are other logistics to work through with transportation, and head coach Shane Abrams isn’t sure if he’ll be able to field junior varsity and freshman teams.
“So far we have 78 kids signed up, but registering with a click and showing up on a daily basis are two different things,” Abrams said.
“We won’t really know [if we can field a freshman team] until two to three weeks into the season. But if we can get the fields clear, keep the virus at bay, and play a seven-game varsity schedule, that would be a home run.”
While Whittier Tech is the first school in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference to opt out of the football season, Essex Tech coach Dan Connors said participation numbers are way up for his program because a number of soccer and cross country athletes are suddenly able to play football in a floating season.
“It’s kind of the catch-22,” Connors said. “We have a few really good athletes who are major contributors on the soccer field, but you can’t get too excited because you don’t know if they’re just giving it a shot, or are they really trying to get into football? And do I play those kids over my regulars if they’re only here for one year?”
Like Essex Tech, Bishop Fenwick is lucky enough to have private contractors available to clear its turf fields. And the Crusaders will welcome up to nine hockey players to the football program because of the schedule shift, per athletic director and football coach Dave Woods.
Teams in the Boston City League will have limited field access until the snow melts, and the Greater Boston League delayed the Fall II period until April 12 with winter sports starting in March.
The Mayflower League is pushing back the start of football practices until at least March 3 with games starting on March 27 and the season running until April 30. According to Blue Hills AD and football coach Ed Catabia, the adjusted schedule will allow for more flexibility due to weather and make the Fall II season equitable with other seasons in terms of length.
Most teams are only playing conference opponents, with their traditional Thanksgiving rivals scheduled for the final week of the season.
“It’ll be interesting,” said Jatkola. “But that’s why we sign up — to compete for a [league] championship. We’ve got our rival Falmouth last and the winner gets the same Selectman’s Cup to keep up with the tradition. That will make it fun and exciting for the kids.”
Perhaps next week we’ll be painting our roses red, but right now our MC facilities staff is focused on removing snow from Donovan Field ... getting ready for the upcoming football season! #Lancerpride @MCathletics1 @xbschools @NewsMaldenMA @CSOboston pic.twitter.com/V0Ph1mi2Jz— Bro. Thomas Puccio, CFX, Ed.D. (@BroPuccio) February 11, 2021
▪ Conference tournaments for the winter season reached a crescendo this past weekend, and continue into this week with the Boston City League hosting its traditional basketball tournament. Instead of a championship event at Madison Park, games will be held at the higher seed on Wednesday, Friday, and the finals will be on Saturday.
▪ Dracut promoted defensive coach Josh Porter, a 2011 graduate and former two-way lineman, to head football coach for the Fall II season ... Canton offensive coordinator Anthony Fallon will take over as head coach following Dave Bohane’s retirement. Fallon is a 1988 Canton graduate who played in the 1987 EMass. Division 3 Super Bowl and went on to play at Bridgewater State.
▪ The following athletes recently announced or formalized their college commitments
Football: Tommy Casey, Central Catholic (WPI); Cooper Estes, Hingham (St. Anselm); Seamus Foley, St. Sebastian’s (Union)
Gymnastics: Lola Barrett, Wakefield (Sacred Heart).