MIAA's COVID-19 Task Force Releases Fall Sports Modifications

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Sports
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High school soccer matches in the commonwealth will look very different this fall if they happen at all.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Friday morning, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released the sport-specific modifications that on Thursday were unanimously approved by the association's COVID-19 Task Force.
The state governing body previously had moved football and Unified basketball, considered high-risk sports for transmission of the novel coronavirus, to the association's "Fall II" season, slated for Feb. 22 to April 25, in hopes that public health conditions will allow play at that time.
All of the remaining MIAA-sanctioned sports Friday learned what their seasons might look like. Four of those sports are contested by Berkshire County schools: cross country running, golf, soccer and volleyball.
The fall sports season, which normally gets under way in mid-August, was pushed back to allow pre-season practices to begin on Sept. 18, two days after the commonwealth's deadline for the start of classes in a school year also delayed by the pandemic.
While the state association is allowing competitions in the moderate-risk and low-risk sports, it is up to individual school districts whether to offer the sports in the fall. In Berkshire County, the decisions have ranged from the Pittsfield Public Schools, which decided to offer no sports until late November, to the Central Berkshire Regional School District (Wahconah) and Mount Greylock Regional School District, which are fielding competitive teams in cross country and golf and practice programs in all other sports, including football and Unified basketball. The Lee School Committee put the decisions in the hands of school administrators.
The Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday OK'd a plan that specifically leaves open the possibility of a competitive season in soccer and volleyball if enough other schools in the county do the same. The MIAA's guidance for all schools is that they limit travel and restrict competition to local and league opponents.
If high school soccer is played in the Berkshires this fall, it will have to be done under a set of modifications designed to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Included among the changes: players will not be allowed to intentionally head the ball, they will be whistled for a violation if they place their hands on an opposing team member's body, and they will be whistled for making intentional body contact of any kind with an opponent. Slide tackles will be illegal, and throw-ins will be replaced by indirect free kicks from the touchline. The defensive wall is not allowed on restarts; players must stand at least 6 feet apart from one another when play resumes.
And players will be required to wear face coverings at all times — including during play — unless they are more than 10 feet away from an opponent.
While the changes may not be as dramatic as in soccer, each of the other sports cleared for competition by the MIAA this fall will see some modifications.
Golfers will need to wear face coverings at the start of their matches and will be required to wear them whenever they are within 6 feet of another player.
Harriers will need to have face coverings in place before and after each race but may remove them during the race if socially-distanced. And the cross country races themselves will utilize "wave" starts, similar to the starts familiar to Nordic skiers, with runners spaced 6 feet apart individually and teams spaced at least 14 feet apart; the waves will be started at three-minute intervals. And the MIAA is mandating that all meets be dual meets — i.e. competitions between two schools only.
Volleyball teams this year will remain on the same side of the net throughout the match, rather than rotating between sets as they have traditionally. New balls will be inserted into the game after each rally. And front row players "will be restricted from traditionally attacking the ball while the ball is above or in front of the 3-foot line," in order to reduce the risk of contact between players.
The MIAA did not go as far as the state of Vermont and mandate that all volleyball matches must be played outdoors. But at least one administrator, Mount Greylock Athletic Director Lindsey von Holtz, has said the school has acquired outdoor nets it plans to use for its practice program.
In addition to the modifications that are required for competitions, each sport also has a set of changes to the ways teams practice, and the MIAA is recommending that schools appoint a "COVID-19 Coach," who will be responsible for making sure coronavirus protocols are maintained.
The Task Force's modifications were established by the MIAA's individual sport committees and vetted by the commonwealth's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, according to a Friday letter signed by MIAA President Jeffrey Granatino and Executive Director Bill Gaine.
"On behalf of the membership, I enthusiastically advance pride and gratitude to MIAA Task Force members, the MIAA Sports Medicine and sport committee representatives for their valuable contributions in providing a blueprint for MIAA student athletes to participate in educational athletics this fall season," Gaine said in the letter. "Stakeholders' participation, guidance and collaboration with DESE and EEA warrant like appreciation."
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