Pittsfield Public Schools Extends Suspension of Sports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield will not be seeing winter sports as long as students are learning remotely.
On Monday, the School Committee approved the extended suspension of all interscholastic athletic programming and traditionally offered winter sports to align with the extension of the district's current all-remote education model.
Winter athletic programming will remain suspended until at minimum in-person learning resumes, with the target start date for the programming to potentially begin following one week or five school days of in-person learning resuming successfully.
"As a mayor, as a person in this community, I cannot be in a position of setting up our community for further transmission," Mayor Linda Tyer said. "And that's what's going to happen if we have congregate activities happening in our city while we remain in this red designation."
The city has for several weeks been in the "red," or highest transmission, level in the state's four-level classification for COVID-19 spread.
Athletic Director Jim Abel said the school district is not currently in a place to make a decision on winter athletics when it is currently remote and anticipating another spike of COVID-19 cases following the upcoming holidays.
The city saw spikes in cases after Halloween and Thanksgiving; some school districts are anticipating surges from the end-of-the-year holidays, especially Christmas.
Abel said it would be unrealistic and irresponsible to make a decision to approve winter sports at the moment, but if they were forced to make a decision on that day it would be an easy "no."
Nonetheless, he recognized that these sports are important to a student's academic career and can provide social interaction and healthy exercise during these unprecedented times, and didn't want to completely rule out winter sports.
This is why he recommended that sports follow the school's learning model and only return once learning is able to so.
"The reality is we want sports," Abel said. "Kids need sports, perhaps now more than ever."
In August, the administration suspended athletics until Nov. 30. Fall sports were moved to a floating season designed by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association with the expectation that they will operate in late February to early May.
Monday's decision will determine the fate of three out of five winter sports — basketball, swimming, and alpine skiing. Wrestling and hockey are traditionally winter sports but were already canceled or rescheduled.
"While athletics are indeed a significant piece of the educational experience," Abel said. "The safety of students and the community is an overriding factor with any decision made by institutions."
Abel said things are in place for PPS to be able to pursue meaningful athletic operations for Pittsfield High and Taconic students in basketball, swimming, and alpine skiing in the event that in-person learning returns. This includes partnering with a number of local organizations to be able to conduct these activities at an off-campus location.
Out of an abundance of caution, he said, using school buildings in terms of gyms, locker rooms, and weight rooms would not be in play if these sports were operated.
Abel said school gyms have been utilized for in-person learning because the large space is less likely to spread COVID-19 and that education always comes first. He also reasoned that confined spaces like locker rooms don't lend themselves to use by groups of teens or students.
Additionally, if these sports were to resume, spectators would not be permitted.
Tyer commended Abel for his courage in making a decision that will upset some families and disappoint some students for the sake of public health.
"We are not in a position today to encourage these kinds of contracting athletic activities," she said. "We are a red community and it means that our city is at a high risk of transmission."
In support of the extension, Tyer expressed her concern for indoor athletics during the pandemic, saying that she could not think of a more risky activity.
Head boys basketball coach for Taconic Bill Heaphy was hopeful that the committee may find a way to resume winter sports. He called into the meeting to offer his thoughts.
"First and foremost is the safety and the well being of our student-athletes, our coaches, our fans, and so forth so I am in absolute agreement that comes first," Heaphy said. "But I do want to put a plug into you guys to see if there is a way that we could try to proceed with some form of winter sports."
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