High school athletic teams getting back onto the field

  • Bow quarterback Alex Boisvert works on an agility drill at the Thursday evening’s practice on June 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bow High School lineman Eric Goodwin practices the proper stance on the offensive side while practicing safe distancing at practice on Thursday evening, June 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bow High School football offensive lineman at practice as Head coach Paul Cohen practices safe distancing on Thursday evening, June 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bow football offensive lineman Eric Goodwin (center) and teammates practice proper blocking technique while still safe distancing during football practice on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bow quarterback Alex Boisvert works on an agility drill at the Thursday evening’s practice on June 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bow football coach Paul Cohen practices social distancing as he works with offensive lineman at the school’s practice field on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bow football players and coaches workout while practicing social distancing at the evening practice on Thursday, June 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/26/2020 2:13:26 PM

In a normal summer, high school athletic teams would already be working out together and preparing for next season. The coronavirus put most athletic events and practices on hold, but that’s slowly beginning to change. 

Local schools are putting together plans to begin workouts in the next few weeks and some of the them, like Bow High, have already dipped a toe in the water.

“The football team went two nights last week and two nights this week,” Bow athletic director Mike Desilets said. “They’re the first group to go and the SAU is on board with trying to get things slowly reopened so we can see how it goes and what it looks like.”

The Bow football team may be one of the first local groups to start practicing again, but the early-bird Falcons are still exercising caution. Even though it can use the Phase 2 guidelines for athletic teams in Gov. Chris Sununu’s re-opening plan, the Bow football team is sticking mostly to the more stringent Phase 1 rules. For example, the Falcons could have as many 50 people practicing together under the Phase 2 guidelines, but they are sticking to 10-person groups mandated by the Phase 1 guidelines.

“We’re staying pretty conservative,” Desilets said.

The school was able to get some no-touch thermometers through the state and a parent or coach is taking the players’ temperatures, and asking them the standard COVID screening questions, before they are allowed to enter the workout area. Once they pass that checkpoint, the players are keeping six feet apart and not sharing any equipment. So, there are no passes being thrown or caught, no handoffs, no punts. There aren’t even any helmets or shoulder pads.

“They’re pretty much just doing conditioning stuff as best they can,” Desilets said. “It’s pretty basic.”

John Stark Regional High AD Mark Searles has submitted a proposal to open summer workouts some time after July 4 to his superintendent and principal and is waiting for their approval. When and if gets that approval, Searles, like Desilets, is going to stay conservative.

“Even though we’re in Phase 2, my plan was to start with Phase 1 for a couple of weeks and if everything goes okay then maybe ramp it up a little bit,” Searles said. “I didn’t want to jump right in to Phase 2 and have it be a free-for-all. I’ve got to make sure that everyone is doing the right thing first and then we can move forward.”

Hopkinton High AD Dan Meserve is also waiting to hear from his superintendent before giving Hopkinton teams the green light to start training.

“I’ve talked to Steve Chamberlin our superintendent and he’s got something that he’s looking at and considering, and I’m hoping we can have some kind of summer workouts, but I just don’t know,” Meserve said.

Concord High is hoping to start summer workouts for its teams on July 5, while Merrimack Valley High and Pembroke Academy are aiming for a July 6 start.

Athletic directors across the state are also working on plans for the potential return of games and fans when the school year begins. Desilets is the president of the New Hampshire Athletic Directors Association, which put together a task force to come up with a general set of recommended guidelines for the state’s schools.

“We had a bunch of ADs, a doctor and some trainers on the task force and we put out a document on return-to-play guidelines that we’re hoping schools stick to, but it’s really up to each school,” Desilets said. “Basically it was a lot of data collection and then compiling rules from the National High School Federation, the CDC, sports medicine committees and the U.S. Olympic Committee, too, so that schools all have something to refer to.”

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, the body that oversees New Hampshire high school athletics, issued its own set of recommended guidelines for summer workouts and a potential return to play in the fall on Wednesday. The NHIAA guidelines follow the phased approach used by Gov. Sununu. Phase 1 is outdoors only with groups of 10 or less, Phase 2 allows for groups of 50 and indoor activities and, “Phase Three (3) guidelines for practice/competition will be developed in conjunction with current state guidelines, NHIAA sport specific committee’s recommendations and the NHIAA Sports Medicine Committee.”

If high school sports do return in the fall, chances are good they will look much different. Some schools may allow fans, some may not. No-contact sports like tennis, track or swimming (which were labeled “Lower risk” in the NHIAA guidelines) could be moved to the fall when the danger of spreading the coronavirus is greater while high-contact sports like football, wrestling and basketball (labeled “Higher risk”) could be pushed to the spring in hopes that the virus will have subsided some by then. The six-foot social-distancing mandates will limit the number of student-athletes and coaches on buses, and there may be a lack of people willing to drive buses, which will make transportation challenging. There may also be fewer officials willing to work during the COVID crisis.

“All these small nuanced things that most people don’t think of are really some of the big things that we’ll be dealing with,” Merrimack Valley AD Kevin O’Brien said.

The NHIAA guidelines tackle a big thing that many people are thinking about – more coronavirus outbreaks.

“Due to the near-certainty of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while in-season,” the NHIAA warns in its guidelines. “Each school district should develop policies regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to post-season events/competitions.”

Some of the challenges high school athletics are facing can be solved with enough money, but that means some schools may be able to afford all of its usual teams while others can not. The number of viable teams may also be impacted by the some parents who don’t feel comfortable with their children playing sports this year, no matter how many guidelines are in place.

“We could see less teams total, less varsity teams and less JV teams,” O’Brien said. “My thing is, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure where that is yet, but as long as we all treat each other with respect we should be able to figure that out.”

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