Here’s some good news for those hoping high school sports in New Hampshire will be played this fall: The state plans to move forward with all high school sports and have sport-specific safety guidelines in place.
New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Jeff Collins said the NHIAA sports medicine committee is currently forming those guidelines to keep athletes and coaches safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will be forwarded to the NHIAA executive council this week. The guidelines for each sport could be announced as early as Friday, Collins said.
“We’re continuing to revise our guidelines for the start of sports this fall,” Collins explained last Friday. “We issued guidelines for summertime activities, skills and drills is what we’ve been calling them. Now we’re in the final process of putting together the plans for reopening sports in the fall. Those will go to our council by the end of (this) week for a vote to forge ahead and look towards having sports this fall — giving schools guidance to provide their student/athletes an opportunity to compete.
“The state guidelines that were put out there on the seventh of this month allow for all sports to be played in the state as of the issuance of those documents,” Collins continued. “We’re basing a lot of guidance on those documents. I know (summer) baseball is up and running, softball’s up and running — soccer, field hockey, lacrosse. The kids are playing across the state of New Hampshire for sure.”
Collins said the NHIAA sports medicine committee includes a superintendent, two principals, athletic trainers, doctors and the dean of health and human services at the University of New Hampshire.
The NHIAA offers the following fall sports: bass fishing, cross country (boys and girls), field hockey, football, golf (boys and girls), soccer (boys, girls and unified), spirit and girls’ volleyball.
“What the state has passed and what has been vetted by the state’s reopening task force and also the Department of Health and Human Services is the document the state has put out there with regard to youth sports,” Collins said. “Obviously that provides some backbone, but there are other things we need to consider. Sport-specific committees have met. The NHFS, our parent organization, has put out some rule modifications and changes that states may want to consider as they’re moving forward with their plans. We convened all of our fall sport-specific committees to review those documents and also add any additional recommendations we can make to schools and provide guidance to them with sport-specific recommendations.”
Londonderry football coach Jimmy Lauzon said most of the coaches he’s spoken with are in favor of playing this fall. Like many NHIAA football teams, Londonderry has been doing team activities like conditioning this summer.
“I love my kids and I think they have a great work ethic, but I’m not sure I’d have every single kid on the team out there if they didn’t believe they were going to play this fall,” Lauzon said. “They haven’t even questioned whether we’re going to play or not. I think they’re under the assumption that if we’re out there working at it then we are playing.
“I think they need it, just like they need some type of school. They need that structure, they need the routine and they need to be around people. I don’t think it’s good for any of them mentally or physically to be stuck inside.”
As Lauzon pointed out, if NHIAA sports aren’t offered this fall, student/athletes will still be able to participate in sports run by private organizations.
“By playing high school sports, we’re going to have some control over keeping things safe, whereas if we eliminate all high school sports, kids are gonna play elsewhere,” he said. “They’re gonna play club, they’re gonna play AAU, and I’m not sure how much control we’ll have in terms of putting safety measures in place. At least (high schools) will have some control over trying to keep them safe.
“We’ll roll with the punches. We’ll make all the necessary adjustments that we have to follow — whatever is passed along to us.”
Laconia Athletic Director Craig Kozens said the NHIAA has discussed a large number of options regarding how NHIAA student/athletes can safely play sports this fall.
“There’s people on the far left of the spectrum and there’s people on the far right of the spectrum, he said. “We’re in tough times. There’s no easy decision in the process.
“Personally, I think kids are craving to be kids. Obviously we want it to be safe, but we also want kids to have an enjoyable experience. For a lot of people, the most enjoyable experiences of their lifetime come on the field when they’re growing up.”
Kozens said Laconia athletes have been working out with coaches this summer and that the workouts have been beneficial for multiple reasons.
“It’s been socially and emotionally good for kids, and as far as the data we have, no one has gotten sick,” he said.
Maine and Massachusetts both announced last week that the start of practice for high school sports had been pushed back to September (Sept. 8 in Maine and Sept. 14 in Massachusetts). Varsity games in Maine won’t begin before Sept. 18.
Collins said the start of NHIAA sports could be pushed back two weeks to facilitate the reopening of schools.
“That still remains to be decided,” he said. “The thing that we’re certainly running up against is the fact that school guidelines were provided last week and a lot of schools are really developing their plans for the reopening of those schools to learn. We’ve had multiple discussions with our stakeholders, talking about does a two-week delay help schools develop their plans to get kids back into guidelines? We’re definitely considering a two-week delay, but nothing has been decided upon.”
If the start of NHIAA sports is delayed, Collins said, each sport’s season would be shortened, not extended.
“The thing you have to worry about on the back end and what any state association is worried about is what happens with the second wave (of COVID-19)?” Collins explained. “Or what happens if you run into the normal flu season? Plus the weather in the state of New Hampshire isn’t conducive to outdoor events much past Thanksgiving anyway.”
Another issue that remains unclear is how to handle spectators with regard to social distancing. Will spectators be permitted to attend high school events? If so, how many?
Collins said the answers to those questions could vary from school to school.
“Anticipating state tournaments, that’s something we’ll cross down the road,” he said. “Can I see parents only? Sure. Can I see no fans? Sure. It’s all dependent upon how the reopening of schools go and where we are in a couple months.”
There’s also the possibility that some schools will “opt out” and not have high school sports in the fall. Kozens said it’s hard for him to envision any school that chooses to use only virtual learning offering high school sports to its student/athletes.
“We don’t say you have to offer X, Y and Z sports,” Collins said. “It’s up to schools to decide that. What’s right for one community might not be what’s right for another.
“We’re trying to put together the best plan with the information we have at this time. Sitting back and doing nothing is really not an option.”