REGION – Players, coaches and fans will be masked. But other familiar elements of the high school winter sports experience will return to normal this year as teams suit up for a second full season played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re excited to allow spectators back in,” Westborough Athletic Director Johanna DiCarlo said in a recent interview with the Community Advocate. “But in order to allow folks to come to games, they’re going to have to follow the rules that we’re all living by.”
Masking policies remain in place
Indoor high school sports games this winter will allow spectators this winter in a way that contests did not a year ago.
Everyone will need to remain masked though, according to guidance issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and recently reaffirmed by the MIAA.
This will represent a change for some who might have recently been playing club games or pickup contests without masks.
“[In] some other leagues they’re playing in, [masks] are not required,” Marlborough High School hockey coach Mike O’Brien recently said of some of his players. “But they went through it last year and were great with it.”
‘Nobody really wants to touch it’
Changes this year go beyond masks, DiCarlo noted.
A year after playing under a strict set of state and federal guidelines, teams enter the 2021-2022 winter season with a different landscape in terms of perspectives and warnings on COVID-19.
“You had a set of circumstances that we all lived by last year and there was a process in place to decipher that information,” DiCarlo said. “This year, we’re feeling as if, yeah, nobody really wants to touch it.”
Westborough Schools Superintendent Amber Bock weighed in at a School Committee meeting last month, particularly noting a lack of masking guidance from the MIAA.
“As of now, they’re kind of taking a knee on it, so we just have to wait and see,” she said.
The MIAA has since issued a statement backing up an October memo from the state requiring masks at least through Jan. 15.
Mask policies must be universal, AD says
The MIAA indicated in its statement that it would consider a “transition to unmasking” after Jan. 15.
For DiCarlo, any change simply must be universal.
“There was a real group effort to have a consistent approach to this,” she said of strategies a year ago. “I think now, there’s a feeling that that consistent approach is very difficult and that local communities should have the jurisdiction to do what they want. But you cannot have one high school come into a gym unmasked, playing against another high school that is forced to be masked. That’s just a competitive disadvantage. There does need to be consistency there.”
Teams kicked off winter practices last week and will begin their regular season schedules this month.
Additional reporting by Kevin Stone