The Everett School Committee voted 8-0 on Monday to return some Winter Sports to Everett High School (EHS), allowing boys and girls basketball and hockey to begin practices as early as Dec. 15.
It is the first time any interscholastic sports have been given the okay in Everett since last year’s Winter Sports season ended and no spring or fall sports resumed due to COVID-19. However, with long discussions had within the Greater Boston League (GBL), Supt. Priya Tahiliani and Athletic Director Tammy Turner said they felt prepared to safely offer these sports to students as soon as possible.
“We’re asking for approval for this and have a recommendation, but are interested in discussion on it,” said Tahiliani on Monday.
“Winter coaches are on board with this proposal and are ready to make the best of what is not the best situation…We have put a priority on clubs and activities that are small in scope and that have a chance of being sustainable. We believe the athletic plan falls into that category.”
The plan allows girls and boys basketball – both varsity and junior varsity – and hockey, which is mixed boys and girls at Everett High. Indoor track would be moved to the Fall 2 Season, which also includes football and is scheduled to being on Feb. 22. Wrestling is a high-risk activity under COVID and would likely be in the spring, if at all. The new Winter Season would begin Dec. 15, with practices able to start on Dec. 15.
Teams will have a maximum of 15 players per squad and 20 for hockey, and there will be try-outs posted soon. Players will have to wear a mask at all times in both sports, there are no locker rooms and benches would be arranged with social distancing. There will be no spectators allowed at any of the games, but Tahiliani said they are working with ECTV closely to make sure that games are broadcast live for friends, family and students to watch.
Interestingly, referees will be ask to enforce a protocol where there is limited amounts of loud cheering and yelling from the bench areas.
The first games, Turner said, would be in January after the break.
If necessary, sports might create a “bubble” if need be. For instance, Turner said if there is worry, they could designate Medford High as the location of all girls basketball games. Meanwhile, the teams will have different practice dates at Everett High as well to keep the teams segregated and to help with contact tracing.
“It is great to see the letters GBL back on the sports landscape where they belong,” said Tahiliani.
Turner said the GBL has been active all fall in coming up with strict protocols to ensure safety of student athletes – and to also allow them to return for their social-emotional benefits that having been missing for months.
“The GBL athletic directors and athletic trainers have been working since the fall,” she said. “We have been doing everything we can to come up with a winning plan because we know it the social-emotional benefit for the kids that we need…Because it’s just the GBL playing each other, we can adapt. The AD’s have been working together and building up the flexibility. We want to play and are willing to move to be able to do that.”
Public Health Nurse Sabrina Firicano warned that there has been a major increase in November for cases among kids age 0-19. That is a concern for her, she said, in returning to sports and something to watch. She said it will need to be watched carefully and sports might spread the virus.
“As far as the spread, it could be a risk where there are players in close contact with each other,” she said.
School Committee members Samantha Lambert and Dana Murray said they had read all of the protocols put out by the GBL and were impressed and comfortable.
“They are extensive and show a lot of thought and preparation went into the kids,” said Lambert. “That’s why I’m leaning towards voting ‘yes.’”
She also said it will be important to press upon the kids how the virus spreads, and staying home from a game with symptoms is the right thing to do.
“The students may not see the impact of a chain virus,” she said. “Whatever we can do to make sure they understand it’s not just themselves, but their family and other people’s families at risk if they don’t want to follow the guidelines.”