Coronavirus: State guidance for H.S. winter sports likely to be delayed until November

State health leaders had hoped to announce winter guidance for middle and high school sports by mid-October.

But don’t expect the document to be released for at least another month, according to Julie Moore, the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

“While we are actively working on the guidance, we are likely to delay issuance until at least November 1 to allow final decisions to be informed by the most current data available on on-the-ground conditions,” Moore wrote in an email Tuesday.

In a follow-up interview Tuesday morning, Moore, who chairs the task force responsible for crafting the guidance, said it has taken longer than anticipated to complete and earn approval.

“We are trying to give folks as much lead time as possible and at the same trying to not make unnecessarily conservative decisions because of the unknown,” Moore said. 

Moore said the task force has challenging decisions to make for sports such as wrestling, basketball and indoor track. Wrestling and basketball — close-contact, indoor sports — create increased risks for contracting or spreading COVID-19.

“There are a lot of pieces we are trying to balance,” Moore said.

St. Johnsbury's Andrew Cowan (24) battles for the loose ball with Rice's Michel Ndayisahimiye (2) during the boys high school DI basketball championship game between the St. Johnsbury Hilltoppers and the Rice Green Knights at Patrick Gym on Sunday afternoon March 8, 2020 in Burlington, Vermont.

Moore said they haven’t completely ruled out wrestling yet, but the prospects of competition this winter are in serious doubt. Meanwhile, the task force is trying to be “solution-focused” for basketball.

“Basketball involves a lot of close contact. We are looking at the game itself and how you manage a bench,” Moore said.

For indoor track, lack of facility space is another problem; most meets are at local colleges, and outreach efforts at those schools would need to take place to coordinate rental use amid a pandemic, Moore said.

The biggest concern for outdoor winter sports — skiing and snowboarding — is crowd control, Moore said.

Hoops coach: Wait-and-see approach

Typically, games and events for winter sports can begin in early December. But start dates have yet to be finalized, according to Bob Johnson, the associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association.

“We are still hopeful” of a winter season, Johnson said.

Rice boys basketball coach Paul Pecor is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“They made the right decision. November 1 is a realistic timeline — why rush it?” said Pecor, also a physical education teacher at Porters Point School in Colchester. “We are doing the best we can, but it’s really hard to project what the future holds.”

A week ago, Gov. Phil Scott said at his twice-weekly news conference that “some sports will happen, others probably won’t” for the winter season.

Moore said the draft guidance developed by the task force will be reviewed by the Department of Health and the governor’s restart committee, which will make recommendations to Scott.

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

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