Athletes take the field with additional precautions to preserve a chance to play

  • Cameron Littelfield reaches for the ball during practice Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School soccer player Cameron Littelfield reaches up after the ball goes over the net during practice at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School soccer player Cameron Littelfield reaches up after the ball goes over the net during practice at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High soccer players Brandon Comire (4) and Frank Mucyo battle for the ball during practice on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020 at Rundlett Middle School. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School soccer player Cameron Littelfield waits for Frank Mucyo to try to score as another ball flies at him at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High soccer player Alex Mutombo gets his temperature checked at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord High soccer players run through dribbling drills at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening. It took three thermometers to check the temperatures of all those who showed up to practice.

  • Concord High soccer players run through dribbling drills at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School Scott Dunlop, who is entering his 26th season as the team’s head coach, talks with players as they start their practice at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/3/2020 3:31:50 PM

A thermometer and a back-up thermometer have been standard equipment at the Concord High boys’ soccer team summer workouts.

On Tuesday, however, the coach who has the backup was at a CPR training session instead of the workout behind Rundlett Middle School.

When the first-string thermometer stopped working about two-thirds of the way through the temperature checks that are part of the school’s new coronavirus safety guidelines, a parent went to a pharmacy just blocks away and came back with a new thermometer, which also didn’t work.

The coaches had to go to Plan C (a parent running home to get a no-touch thermometer), and the delay lasted for 20 minutes. In the end, all 66 kids who showed up for the workout had their temperature taken and were cleared for practice.

“It’s definitely different with the guidelines and the whole thing,” senior Brandon Comire said. “You just have to be more patient, and more organized with everything.”

Aside from Murphy’s law fouling up temperature checks, Tuesday’s soccer session looked organized. The boys all showed up in masks and the coaches stayed masked throughout the workout. Bags and water bottles were spaced 6-feet apart in a line that stretched well past the field’s borders.

“They know the circumstances that we’re in. They understand the situation,” said Scott Dunlop, who is entering his 26th season as the team’s head coach. “We just want to follow everything that we’re supposed to be doing so we can continue to have this opportunity to play.”

Concord High student-athletes started their summer workouts in July after Gov. Chris Sununu and the state’s re-opening task force gave athletics the green light. Concord High teams stopped their sessions a month later after the school board voted to suspend all in-person activities as part of its decision on Aug. 6 to do fully remote learning to begin the school year. After pressure from parents and students, the board reconvened on Aug. 17 and decided to allow all high school fall sports – soccer, football, field hockey, cross country, golf and volleyball – to resume practices and prepare for the upcoming season.

The start to that season has been delayed and fewer games, meets and matches will be on the regular-season schedules. Opponents will be localized, fans will be limited and tournaments will be open to all teams regardless of record. New safety protocols dictate safety guidelines before, during and after competitions and practices.

“We’ve been talking about the season a little bit, it seems like every week we hear about another curveball,” Comire said. “It may not be the greatest season, but it is a season.”

As of Thursday, more than half of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s 89 schools are moving forward with fall sports, including local high schools Bishop Brady, Merrimack Valley, Bow, Pembroke Academy, Hopkinton, John Stark, Pittsfield, Franklin, Winnisquam, Coe-Brown and Hillsboro-Deering as well as Concord.

Of the 58 NHIAA football teams, 50 are planning to play, four have decided against playing (Kearsarge, ConVal, Somersworth and Epping/Newmarket) and four are undecided.

Kearsarge is also planning for modified field hockey and soccer with players wearing masks during games, no bodily contact, substitutes on the fly, fewer players on the field and other rule changes to maximize safety. Other schools have agreed to use these modified rules when facing Kearsarge.

Teams will stay as local as possible for games to minimize travel and exposure area. In some sports, like soccer, teams will face the same opponent twice in one week to help with any potential contact tracing needed and to prevent virus spread as much as possible. Teams may also face opponents that would have been in a different division under previous NHIAA alignment. For example, one proposed group has Hopkinton and Hillsboro-Deering (traditional Division III schools) playing against Merrimack Valley, John Stark and Pembroke Academy (D-II schools) and Bow (which plays in both D-II and D-III depending on sport and team).

When the Concord boys’ soccer workouts began this summer in early July, it was strictly individual skill work. The players stayed 6-feet apart at all times and always used their own ball. When the state loosened restrictions later in the summer, the soccer program and entire athletic department followed suit, and on Tuesday the boys’ soccer players were having their first full scrimmage with no restrictions.

“We did the temperature checks, obviously, and we’re still having them sanitize everything and stay apart when we gather in groups, but out there we’re just letting them play,” Dunlop said.

It’s a more cautious approach than many club teams have taken this summer in New Hampshire, which has hosted athletic tournaments for school-age club and travel teams from multiple states in multiple sports all summer long.

“I feel like our (Concord High) coaches have taken this seriously, which I think is the right approach,” said Concord senior Brady Rice, who is one of the soccer team captains along with Comire and Alasdair Ferrier. “Other teams, club teams, have been loose with the restrictions, more lenient.”

With Concord schools going to fully remote learning, some parents have questioned why in-person athletics are allowed to take place at all. That was also a reason why Concord School Board members Chuck Crush and Liza Poinier voted against allowing sports to continue at the Aug. 17 meeting.

It’s a valid point, and a potential spread caused by sports could endanger a potential return to in-person academics. But it seems like student-athletes and their families are willing to shoulder risks when it comes to playing sports.

“I’ve heard of some kids not playing because of (coronavirus), I don’t know any of them personally, but everyone can make their own choice and not everyone feels comfortable in this environment right now,” Comire said. “For me, the more I play the better I feel, my mind, my body, everything.”


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