The School Committee hears from Athletic Director Jim Abel on Wednesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee has voted to postpone all interscholastic athletic activities through Nov. 30.
The committee heard from Athletic Director Jim Abel on Wednesday and moved on his recommendation to essentially suspend all fall athletics with hopes of resuming them at a later date.
"I want athletics as much as anyone else," Abel said. "... Given our position and the type of organization that we are, I just don't think it is responsible to not offer in-person education in our schools but consider in-person athletics. It seems contradictory."
Abel said last week the Department of Education, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs provided a joint statement that categorized different sports as high risk, moderate risk, and lower risk in regard to the transmission of COVID-19. It also spelled out new modified conditions within specific sports that would change the way they are played.
Abel said the Berkshire County Athletic Directors Association recently met and hoped to vote on a countywide recommendation to present to principals and school committees.
He said the state has taken tackle football off the table and members of the Berkshire County Athletic Directors Association only could consider golf, soccer, volleyball, cross country running.
There was a motion to endorse the playing of all allowable fall sports, however, some directors were hesitant to support volleyball and soccer, he said.
Volleyball would have to take place indoors so there was skepticism on going forward.
Abel said in the case of soccer, the modifications were so significant that it would change the way the game is played. For example, corner kicks could not be placed toward the goalie and defenders must stay 6 feet away from offensive players.
Abel said this motion did not receive a second.
A second motion was made to only allow golf and cross country running to move forward in the fall. Soccer and volleyball would move to a "floating season" sometime in the future.
He said although still controversial, this motion gained traction and passed with an 8-2 vote.
Abel said he represented both Taconic and PHS and was the lone votes in opposition.
"I felt that we had some contradictory philosophies regarding health, safety, and education as well as some unrealistic logistic situations," he said. "... We are in the process of trying to deliver ... education while limiting foot traffic on our campus. I had a tough time voting in favor of that."
He said the Berkshire County Principals Association also met to discuss the Athletic Directors' vote and went in a different direction. Principals voted to postpone all fall sports and move them to the floating season.
He mentioned some other challenges including transportation, expending resources to properly sanitize facilities, the utilization of off-campus facilities such as city parks and Berkshire Community College. Also, he did not think it was fair to ask couches to put their own health at risk.
Abel was asked if Pittsfield will be left out of the competition if other schools decided to go forward. He indicated that Pittsfield may not be the only district to pause the fall season.
"I don't think that we will be the only school district taking a serious look at this," he said. "Since that last meeting, the feedback that my colleagues have gotten from their upper administration was not in line with how they voted."
He used the term "meaningful competition" and noted if even half of the districts drop out, student-athletes will be stuck competing against the same few kids all season.
Mayor Linda Tyer came out in support of Abel’s recommendation and felt it was the more responsible path forward.
"I completely agree. I think there is a lot greater risk of transmission in high impact sports or in athletics even more so than in the classroom," she said. "I think you are making the right recommendation."
Abel also said there would likely only be regional competitions and MIAA sanctioned tournaments are not anticipated to happen this year at all.
The decision was still concerning to him and he acknowledged how important sports are to students. He said athletics teach valuable lessons, and he feared the absence of fall sports would disconnect some students.
"Those are my fears, and this really hurts me to make this recommendation," he said. "It comes with a lot of sleepless nights, but we have to do what is best for our community in terms of health and safety."
With this vote, all fall sports would move out to this floating season that Abel said would take place sometime between the winter and spring seasons. He said it allows some flexibility and different sports can start at different times.
"It allows for some flexibility based on the sport, the weather, and the facilities," he said.
He said looking beyond the fall, sports will look different this year and seasons will likely be truncated. The spring season would likely end deeper into the summer.
Abel said Nov. 30 is typically the starting date of winter athletics and that he will continue to monitor the situation with "faith and optimism."
Superintendent Jason McCandless said the decision remains with the School Committee as long as the district is fully remote. Once students return to school, the decision technically falls to the administration.
McCandless suggested that even if the district fully returns to school or functions in a hybrid model, any decision regarding sports should still come before the School Committee.
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