Coronavirus: Southern Vermont League cancels opening week of H.S. competition

High school sports won’t return for competition next week as originally hoped, forcing the Southern Vermont League to push back its start date.

Based on information relayed to superintendents Thursday during a call with the Agency of Education, athletic directors believe the state’s public health decision-makers are poised to delay moving schools into the third phase of the “Strong and Healthy Start” plan.

Under the guidance, schools must be in the third phase for sports teams to begin games and competition for the fall season. When teams returned to practice on Sept. 8, the Vermont Principals’ Association said it believed the state had targeted the week of Sept. 21 to transition from Step II to Step III of its plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mount Anthony athletic director Ashley Hoyt wrote on her department’s Twitter feed that her teams’ games and scrimmages next week were postponed. In a message to the Free Press, Hoyt said her superintendent told her of AOE’s decision.

The Valley News spoke with ADs at Hartford and Rivendell, both of whom heard similar news from their superintendents.

Tim Brown, the SVL executive director, issued a memo Thursday to league members to plan on canceling next week’s scheduled games. The SVL had hoped to begin with openers on Monday afternoon. Brown said the SVL was aware the target date could be pushed back, but was bothered by the how the information was disseminated.

“We are just concerned about the late timing of the decision and that there was no formal notification from the AOE or VPA,” Brown wrote in an email to the Free Press.

When reached for comment, Ted Fisher, the AOE’s director of communications, said Dan French, the Secretary of Education, spoke with superintendents Thursday about “a potential timeline for a (Step III) decision.”

“While I can’t speak to the decision-making of school districts, it appears that his comments lead several to realize that their districts had scheduled games prematurely, contrary to the school sports guidance,” Fisher wrote in an email to the Free Press on Thursday evening.

According to state guidance, the Department of Health determines step levels for Vermont schools.

“There was never a timeline given for movement to Step III after school reopening,” Fisher wrote said. “The guidance anticipates that the Health Department will assess public health conditions and consider moving schools to Step III, and gives a tentative timeline for this decision occurring after the first two weeks of school.”

Fisher said the state hopes “to announce a decision next week.”

“Once a decision is made we will make a formal announcement that includes a timeline to help schools make the adjustment between step levels,” Fisher said.

The Northern Vermont Athletic Conference (NVAC), which oversees about 40 schools, opted to start league play during the week of Sept. 28, mainly because of the uncertainty of when the state would move to Step III.

It’s unclear how Thursday’s news affects the opening weekend of football. The regionalized schedule for a 7-on-7, one-hand touch season is set to begin Sept. 25-26. Middlebury athletic director Sean Farrell, the state scheduler, said they will adjust accordingly when an announcement is made.

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Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.

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