Area high schools come to consensus on safety guidelines for winter athletics

  • Bow junior Eli Gadbois makes a run during a dual practice with Concord High School at the Proctor Ski area in Andover on Monday evening, December 14, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 12/25/2020 9:00:22 AM

Like they did in the fall, a group of local high school athletic directors have teamed up to coordinate on the COVID-19 safety guidelines that will govern their sports this winter.

School officials from Bow, Bishop Brady, Coe-Brown, Hillsboro-Deering, Hopkinton, John Stark, Kearsarge Regional, Merrimack Valley and Pembroke Academy met virtually to try to reach a consensus on what winter athletics will look like within their cohort.

“We have invested so much time in this as a group. We meet on a regular basis on the safety and sanitation precautions we need to create the most sterile environment possible so we can play athletics,” said MV athletic director Kevin O’Brien, chair of the 10-school cohort. “Minus putting every team in a pickup truck and running them through a car wash, and I may suggest that, we feel like we have considered every sanitation procedure you could possibly have and still play sports.”

O’Brien emphasized that even though the cohort feels good about the rules now in place and is moving forward optimistically, everyone involved also knows those rules may need to change as the pandemic situation changes, and that sports at any or all of these schools could be put on hold at any moment. That’s what happened at Concord High when athletics was “paused” by interim Superintendent Kathleen Murphy until Jan. 4 after new COVID-19 cases were discovered in the district.

“We feel like we have worked this to the point where we have done everything we possibly can to create safe opportunities for these kids, but there are some things that are out of our hands,” O’Brien said. “We all understand that any of this could be put on hold in a heartbeat.”

Concord is not officially in this cohort – most of its competitions will be against other Division I schools while the regional cohort is made up of smaller D-II and D-III schools that will, for the most part, only being competing against each other. However, some Concord teams will play a game against these local schools and the cohort has been in touch with Concord staff to keep everyone on the same page with the guidelines.

Kearsarge was not part of the cohort in the fall as that school district chose to be extra conservative with its travel restrictions and mask mandates – the Cougars had to wear masks while playing soccer and field hockey and required its opponents do the same. But Kearsarge athletic director Scott Fitzgerald saw how cooperative teams were with Hopkinton, which had the same mask mandate as Kearsarge. Fitzgerald was also impressed with how much success the Capital Area cohort had in maintaining safety regulations while still holding almost all of its scheduled games.

“After I saw everybody in that cohort helping out Hopkinton in the fall by agreeing to wear masks, I knew we needed to get in that one,” Fitzgerald said. “A number of our opponents seemed to struggle with the masks in the fall and were acting like they were doing us an incredible favor by wearing them.”

For the winter, all athletes in this cohort will be wearing masks at all times with few exceptions. Basketball players will wear them during games, on the bench, in timeouts and in every other situation except for taking a drink of water. Hockey players will also be required to wear masks at all times except when taking a drink. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association will require wrestlers to wear a mask in the state tournament, and Concord High wrestlers will be practicing and competing in masks all season, but that’s not necessarily the case with all schools.

The only athletes who do not have to compete with masks are alpine and Nordic skiers when they are all alone on the course, but as soon as they are around other people, they have to put on a face covering.

It’s hard to imagine swimmers wearing a mask, but high school swimming is in jeopardy of tasking place this winter. The season hasn’t officially been canceled, but there are currently no venues willing to host high school meets, even though the CDC has said the coronavirus can’t be transmitted through chlorinated water. Humid air around an indoor pool is a different situation. Indoor track faced a similar problem – no available venues – and that season has been officially canceled.

The one subject this cohort did not come to a consensus on was fans. As of now, Hillsboro-Deering, Hopkinton, Kearsarge and Merrimack Valley will not be allowing any fans at home games. O’Brien said this could potentially change at Merrimack Valley and noted their games don’t start until Jan. 15 (all teams start in the week of Jan. 11-18), so he was in no rush to make a decision. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, guessed that fans will likely not be allowed at Kearsarge games for the entire season.

The other schools in the cohort will issue tickets to games hosted on their campus per player. Bishop Brady and Pembroke Academy will give each player on its teams two tickets to home games and each player on the visiting team will get one ticket. Bow, Coe-Brown and John Stark will give two tickets to home players and two to away players. The same rules will apply for any junior varsity and freshmen/reserve games. When those games happen in the same gym on the same night as the varsity game, the gym will be cleared of fans and cleaned before the next game to maintain safety regulations.

For fans who can’t get tickets, there will be a way to watch your team this winter. Games at Merrimack Valley, Bow, Stark, Kearsarge and Coe-Brown will all be live streamed using new cameras from the National Federation of High Schools. To subscribe to this service and stream games, go to The schools that didn’t get the new cameras – Brady, H-D, Hopkinton and Pembroke – have all agreed to stream games at their schools on Facebook.

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