‘Light mood’ as high school sports resume for first time since March

  • Bow’s Matthew Lamy hit his approach shot on the 18th hole at Canterbury Woods Country Club. RICH MIYARA photos / NH Sports Photography

  •  Bow High’s Amelia Soucy hits a drive on the 15th hole at Canterbury Woods Country Club in Canterbury on Thursday in a three-team match with Concord High and Bishop Brady. Soucy finished with a 42 to help Bow to a 165 team score, which put the Falcons behind Concord (154) and ahead of Brady (206). Thursday was the first day high schools in the state played a sanctioned event since March. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Concord High’s Parker Savoy listens to the coach’s instructions prior to the start of Thursday’s golf match.

  • One of the Bow High team members decided it was a good idea to protect his driver head cover with a mask during Thursday’s match with Concord and Bishop Brady at Canterbury Woods Country Club in Canterbury. Thursday was the first day high school teams in New Hampshire played a sanctioned competition since the coronavirus pandemic shut down high school sports in the state in March. RICH MIYARA/ NH Sports Photography

  • Golf bags from Bishop Brady, Concord High and Bow High are lined up at the Canterbury Woods Country Club on Thursday. The schools usually compete in different divisions, but this year will be different.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/11/2020 3:52:00 PM

They had to wear masks when they weren’t on the course, they couldn’t touch the flagsticks when they were on the greens and they had to keep socially distant at all times. But that was a small price to pay for the student-athletes from Concord, Bow and Bishop Brady who opened their high school golf seasons on Thursday with a three-team match at Canterbury Woods Country Club.

Concord finished first with four golfers shooting under 40 for an impressive team score of 154. Bow finished with a 165 and Bishop Brady carded a 206, but the scores didn’t matter so much. What really mattered was simply being able to compete in high school athletics for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic canceled all high school sports in the state back in March.

“It was a very light mood at the match,” Bow coach Matt Davis said. “We’re seeing kids that are really excited to be doing something that feels pretty normal to them, even if it’s altered with some social distancing and masks and things like that, but they all seemed to be pretty excited to compete again.”

Teams were able to work out for most of the summer, but Tuesday was the first day of sanctioned practice for all fall sports – football, soccer, field hockey, cross country, golf, volleyball, bass fishing and spirit. The first day to play for fall’s low-risk sports (golf and bass fishing) was Thursday. Moderate-risk sports like cross country, field hockey, volleyball and soccer (boys’, girls’ and unified) can play their first games on Sept. 18. Football and spirit, considered high-risk sports, will have their first competitions on Sept. 25.

Using the guidelines set forth by the state and the CDC, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association created health guideline recommendations for each sport that schools can modify as needed or wanted.

“We talked it all through with the kids ahead of time and we’re just trying to keep them as safe as possible,” Davis said. “It’s pretty typical stuff – don’t touch the flagstick, only pay attention to your own equipment, that sort of thing. The social distancing part is pretty easy with golf, so that’s nice. The kids did a great job with all of it.”

The fact that Concord was even playing against Bow and Bishop Brady was a safety measure in itself. Normally, teams only play other teams in their division, which is currently based on school size for the 2019-20 school year (division alignment is reevaluated every two years with the most recent enrollment figures). With 1,661 students, Concord is one of the bigger schools in Division I, which is for schools with an enrollment of 900 or more students. With 661 students, Bow is a small school in D-II (525-899 students). Bishop Brady and its 320 students is a small school in D-III (286-525 students).

Now, in order to minimize possible COVID spread, teams are playing schedules that are using location as the top priority. A big school like Concord won’t play Bishop Brady in football where the enrollment difference would make the game uncompetitive and unsafe. In a sport like golf, however, smaller schools have a better chance to compete against bigger schools and even if the student-athletes from the smaller schools are at a disadvantage, they’re health isn’t at risk the way it would be playing against a big school’s football team.

In fact, playing up against big-school competition can benefit teams from smaller schools like Bow and Bishop Brady.

“You can see Concord is a very strong team, so I think it was good for our players to face that level of competition, especially early on in the season,” Davis said. “It’s something new for the kids, seeing teams from other divisions, and some of our guys know kids on the Concord team, so they were excited to play.”

Harry Waite and Gavin Richardson each shot a 38 for Concord while Sam Hopkins and Dylan Miles both carded a 39 to account for the Crimson Tide’s 154 team score. Hunter Duncan led Bow with a 40, Justin Murphy had a 41 and Amelia Soucy and Matt Lamy each had a 42. Kate Shoemaker shot a 49 for Bishop Brady and Cody Fuller was right behind her with a 50.

The localized schedule means Concord teams will compete against neighboring schools that they normally wouldn’t play like Merrimack Valley, Pembroke and Bow. The same is true for tiny Hopkinton, which is one of the smaller D-III schools (288 enrollment), but this fall will be playing neighboring D-II schools like MV (819), Pembroke (799) and John Stark (669).

The inter-division scheduling will also create some compelling matchups that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Like the Coe-Brown cross country teams, which have won 7 of the last 10 girls’ D-II cross country titles and 5 of the last 6 boys’ D-II titles, going up against the Concord cross country teams – the Crimson Tide boys’ team has won three straight D-I titles and the Tide girls’ team is the defending D-I champ and expected to defend its title. Or the Hopkinton boys’ soccer team, a perennial power in D-III, testing itself against top D-II programs like Bow and Coe-Brown and a top D-I program like Concord.

There are also many instances of teams playing each other twice in the same week this fall, and various teams from one school will face opponents all from the same school during the same week. Both of these measures will further help reduce the risk of potential spread and will help with contact tracing, if necessary.

For example, Concord will face Manchester Memorial in nine events during the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 2. There will be boys’ and girls’ soccer games between the two schools on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. The Concord and Memorial field hockey teams will play against each other in Manchester on Sept. 28 and again in Concord on Sept. 30, which is the same day the two schools will be meeting on the volleyball court and the cross country course. And the football teams from the two schools wrap up the week with a Friday night game on Oct. 2 in Concord.

Concord has similar weeks with Bedford and Manchester Central. MV, Pembroke, Stark, Bow and Hopkinton all have weeks like that with each other.

But not every schedule and school can fit into perfectly into localized schedules. Teams from Bishop Brady, for example, are playing against schools all over the state at seemingly random times and places. The Brady girls’ soccer team has no back-to-back games with the same opponent, seven of its 10 games are on the road and it will play against schools from all corners of the state – Berlin, St. Thomas (Dover) and Campbell (Litchfield).

Playing a fully localized schedule is also difficult for schools that are not in a natural clump of towns. Coe-Brown will play against Capital Area schools like Merrimack Valley and Pembroke, but also against Seacoast area schools St. Thomas and Oyster River of Durham, as well as D-IV Pittsfield, which has its own locality issues. Pittsfield (enrollment 168) will face a variety of schools from nearby Coe-Brown (enrollment 714), to Sunapee in the north and Prospect Mountain of Alton and Farmington in the Lakes Region.

“It should be an interesting season,” Davis said. “We’re just happy to be playing.”


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