Concord winter sports to go live while classes remain remote

  • Wrestling meet held at Concord High School on Dec. 7, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 11/24/2020 1:58:24 PM

The Concord School Board overwhelmingly voted to allow winter sports to be played at both Concord High and Rundlett Middle School just as the schools have transitioned to remote education through early 2021.

The 8-1 vote follows the unanimous recommendation made last week by the board’s instructional committee to approve winter sports after the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association gave a thumbs up for winter competition back in October.

Tryouts for all winter athletics – including indoor sports like ice hockey, basketball and wrestling – will begin the week of Dec. 14 and the first day of competition will be Jan. 15. Concord students will still be in remote education mode during both those dates. Under the current plan, nearly all students will learn remotely between Thanksgiving and winter break and are not expected to return to an in-person hybrid model until Jan. 19.

Monday night’s vote also follows a mostly-outdoors fall sports season where more than 500 Concord High and Rundlett students participated in 16 different interscholastic athletic programs and no competitions were postponed. And as of Oct. 29, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services stated there were no documented COVID-19 cases on file due to player-to-player high school sports contact.

The school board’s vote goes against recommendations made by Concord School District nurses, who sent the board members a letter on Friday ahead of Monday’s vote. The letter, which is signed by nine nurses, was written “to express our professional opinion that the Concord School District should not allow indoor winter sports.”

“The science is clear that indoor spaces, close contact, loud voices and heavy breathing create a perfect storm of spread. These additional cases and contacts will hinder the nurses from doing the COVID work necessary to keep the schools open for CRTC and for our vulnerable students,” the letter states. “We are eager for students to be at in person school as much as possible and safe. Indoor sports is an impediment to that goal and endangers both our schools and our greater community.”

In August, the board initially voted to not allow fall sports after it decided to begin the school year in remote education mode. But after a public outcry led by parents and student-athletes, the board reversed its decision and allowed fall sports to continue by a vote of 7-2. Board member Liza Poinier was one of the dissenting votes then, and she was the only dissenting vote on Monday.

Like they did in the fall, Concord High Athletic Director Steve Mello and his staff presented the board with a comprehensive plan to have a safe sports season this winter. The plan was crafted around the state guidelines concerning amateur and youth sports and includes details for every winter sport – basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, swimming, skiing (Alpine, Nordic, jumping) and spirit, as well as details for the weight room and running club workouts.

The plan gives detailed instructions on screening, social distancing and disinfecting when it comes to practices and games, rules that have now become second nature to many. It also states that Concord High will give each student-athlete an allotment of three tickets per home game, and that the school will continue its no-fan policy for away games.

Some of the other noteworthy rules include the Concord High basketball players and coaches being mandated to wear masks at all times, including during game play. Concord wrestlers will practice in small pods to limit contact within the team, and face only one opponent per week to limit contact outside the team. The Crimson Tide hockey teams will be playing and practicing in an updated Everett Arena, which has new HVAC and dehumidification equipment, touchless restroom fixtures and hand sanitizing stations that will be tightly regulated by staff. The Concord YMCA, home for the Tide swim teams, has also been upgraded with HEPA air scrubbers in the lobby, locker rooms and pool deck, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through chlorinated water.

Like they were in the fall, the winter sports schedules will look very different from other seasons. There will be fewer games total and opponents will be selected based on location and not division to limit travel and potential virus spread and exposure. In the fall, for example, the Division I Concord High soccer teams played against local D-II schools like Merrimack Valley and Pembroke Academy that they normally wouldn’t face. This will be easy to replicate in some winter sports like basketball, but it will be more difficult in hockey since there are simply fewer hockey teams in the state.

In neighboring Vermont, the winter sports season – scheduled to start Monday – has been postponed. A new start date has not yet been announced.




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