Full-time masks for student-athletes at Hopkinton and Hillsboro-Deering

  • ABOVE: The Hopkinton girls’ soccer team runs drills under the watchful eyes of coach Mike Zahn as they practice at the high school. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • TOP: Hopkinton soccer player Olivia Cressy adjusts her mask before practice at the high school on Wednesday.

  • Hopkington Highschool Womens Soccer Coach Mike Zhan watching his players during practice at Hopkington Highschool while wearing a mask September 16th, 2020. ALLIE ST PETER—Monitor staff

  • Hopkinton High School Girls’ Soccer Coach Mike Zhan talks to his players during practice while wearing a mask and holding a thermometer Wednesday. ALLIE ST. PETER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/16/2020 5:03:43 PM

Hopkinton girls’ soccer coach Mike Zahn was a little worried about his players passing their fitness tests as they began practice last week. Zahn didn’t think his players were out of shape; he was concerned because they had to take the tests wearing masks.

High school student-athletes across the state have been adjusting to new protocols this fall season, which began on Sept. 8. Wearing masks when arriving and leaving practices and games is a common guideline. But a few schools, like Hopkinton, have taken it a step further and are asking many of their student-athletes to wear masks at all times – including during games and practices.

“We did a 1-mile timed run, a 2-mile timed run and a couple of other timed fitness tests during the course of last week, and they all wore their masks during the entire time,” Zahn said. “Obviously, it’s very uncomfortable, but they did okay. Actually, they did better than I expected.”

The Hopkinton golf and cross country teams will not be required to wear masks during competitions because they can effectively socially distance even while competing. But the Hopkinton girls’ and boys’ soccer teams, the field hockey team and the co-op football with Hillsboro-Deering will all be wearing masks at all times during games and practices.

The Hopkinton School Board policy regarding masks for student-athletes reads as follows: “Masks or face coverings are suggested at all times. They are required when athletes are not involved in physical play. Coaches will encourage athletes to wear masks during physical play. Hopkinton athletes will work towards 100% mask compliance by building mask tolerance. Athletes not able to wear masks will meet with their Coach and the Athletic Director as needed to discuss alternatives.”

Some of those meetings have already taken place.

“There are some students who are struggling with the masks, for sure, and we’ve tried to do our best to work with people. If someone has asthma or something like that, it’s hard,” Hopkinton athletic director Dan Meserve said. “The board policies are working towards this, but if kids are having a hard time breathing we understand that, and if they have to take the mask off, they have to take it off. But we’re hoping they can build up their endurance and use it. It’s for everybody’s safety.”

Like Hopkinton, Hillsboro-Deering is requiring its soccer teams, and its volleyball team, to also wear masks at all times. The Hillsboro-Deering-Hopkinton football players will be wearing both cloth masks over their mouths and noses and splash shields, which are plastic coverings attached to the helmet’s face mask and will essentially act like a plastic face shield, giving the HDH football players two layers of protection.

Hopkinton and Hillsboro-Deering have also been asking their opponents to wear masks.

“Other schools have been great, they really have been,” Meserve said. “The other AD’s that we have in our cohort (Merrimack Valley, Bow, Pembroke Academy, John Stark) that I’ve talked to, they’ve all said if that’s what it takes to play you guys, then we will do our best to ensure our kids are doing the same thing. It’s really a big ask of them, and they’ve just been fantastic.”

The Hopkinton soccer teams open their season on Monday against Bow, and the Falcons will be wearing masks in order to take on their neighbors from Hopkinton.

“We want to play the game,” Bow boys’ soccer coach George Pinkham said.

Zahn has spoken with some of the other girls’ soccer coaches his team will be facing, and he said they had similar feelings as Pinkham.

“We’re asking a lot, but I talked to a few other people and, honestly, I think they’re looking at it like they just want to play,” Zahn said. “If they say no, then Hopkinton could cancel and then instead of 10 games they could have eight or nine games, so I think for them they’ll just suck it up and do it. It will be interesting, though, if we run into a team that doesn’t want to wear the masks, or if that happens in the tournament, that will be a more interesting puzzle.”

Zahn does have some mask recommendations for his future opponents, or anyone else who has to wear a mask while running.

“The best masks to use are the disposable, blue, surgical masks, that’s the go-to for my girls right now,” Zahn said. “They’re uncomfortable, but they are the most breathable. At work I wear a cotton one, but when I coach I wear the disposable one.”

Fans will also be asked to wear masks at Hopkinton and Hillsboro-Deering games.

“I’m not going to go up and down the sideline and police it, but we’re going to have signs up and we’re going to ask people please stay six feet apart by household and then please wear masks,” Meserve said. “That’s really a town and a state requirement, too, because gatherings over 100 are required to wear masks. So, who knows how many people are going to show up for games, but that’s what we’re going to do.”

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