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Newton high schools get a second chance at a fall sports season

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Newton’s High schools kicked off an additional fall sports season in the middle of February. Football, volleyball and other teams must follow new game rules, require masks, lower capacity in locker rooms and follow other safety precautions.

“I think it’s better than nothing,” said Malissa Beckles, a senior on the softball team at Newton South High School. “Coming from last year where we didn’t have a season at all.”

Patricia Gonzalez, director of Athletics and Wellness at Newton South, said she wants to take lessons learned from the winter season into the fall 2 and spring seasons. She said only two out of the 15 winter sports teams had to shut down temporarily due to the coronavirus.

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“If you stick to the protocols, you wear your mask, you keep your distance, you clean everything you can,” Gonzalez said. “You can keep everybody playing.”

Not all coaches agreed with the season changes. Ted Dalicandro, head football coach and designated COVID coach for the winter and fall 1 seasons at Newton South, said he is disappointed that the teams must now navigate not only coronavirus rules, but also the additional stress of snowy and cold temperatures.

“I feel it was a missed opportunity,” he said.

Spring sports will begin on April 26 this year instead of the usual third week of March. After losing the spring 2020 season, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released guidelines in August. In January, the organization released updated guidelines that created an additional fall season.

Tom Giusti, athletic director at Newton North High School, said he understood the MIAA’s intentions but felt the change caused more stress due to weather concerns.

“The challenge is the weather conditions, the snow on the field,” Giusti said. “It’s just another obstacle, another hiccup, and they have to try to figure out and resolve in some way.”

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“Our track is covered in snow,” said Isabelle Magre, captain of Newton North’s girls’ Indoor Track, a fall 2 sport. “So, I think we’ll have to be running around the school and running in the parking lot, which is not ideal.”

Newton schools play fewer teams this year and are in “pods” within their leagues. Giusti said each in-person sport plays one school a week. Some sports have virtual options — women’s gymnastics teams livestream competitions — and this year the Newton North team won the Dual County League title.

Gonzalez said she sees online streaming as an opportunity for the community, as out-of-town family and friends can support their students from anywhere.

“That’s been a very positive spin on this pandemic situation,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t focus on the things you lose or miss. You have to embrace and celebrate the things that you’re able to accomplish.”

Grace Denninger, senior and softball captain at Newton South ,chose to play softball during the pandemic because she wants to inspire her teammates to continue.

“It’s obviously a big decision to play during COVID,” she said. “So, I think inspiring people to play was kind of my inspiration.”

Kevin Silva, a senior football player at Newton North, said he anticipates it will be challenging with less practice space but knows school administrators are trying their best.

“For the limited resources they have, I feel like they’re handling it pretty well,” he said.

Giusti said there will continue to be challenges, but he has hope.

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“We all have a whole lot on our plate right now,” he said. “But you know what? If we get through it, things will be better.”

Amanda Cappelli can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.