Gov. Phil Scott: There will be high school fall sports in Vermont in 2020

It won’t be a normal season, but Gov. Phil Scott gave some encouraging news Friday morning for high school athletes: All sports are a go for this fall.

“I know how important this is for many young Vermonters and their families, but like so many things during this crisis, fall sports won’t be exactly what we’re accustomed to,” Scott said. “I know many have been wondering if there was going to be a season at all. We want to make it clear: There will be.”

Fall sports include cross-country running, soccer, field hockey, football, cheerleading, volleyball, bass fishing and golf.

Scott said the season “will look much different, especially when it comes to high-contact sports” such as football.

“Our goal is to offer a path forward for each of these sports to give our kids some sense of normalcy in these abnormal times,” Scott said.

Scott said the Vermont Principals’ Association, the state’s governing body of athletics, will release guidance for fall sports early next week. The document will also cover Vermont’s recreational leagues.

More:Why the VPA is delaying the start of high school fall sports

What info is to come? 

Rice's Caroline McClintock sends the ball past Bellows Falls' Ashlin Maxfield during the Division I field hockey championship between Rice Memorial High School and Bellows Falls Union High School at UVM's Moulton Winder Field in South Bulington on Saturday November 2 2019.

Friday’s announcement likely put to rest the fears of many — but the bulk of the details about how sports will look this fall are still forthcoming.

“The governor’s announcement today was important in that people needed to know there will be a fall season,” said Bob Johnson, the associate executive director of the VPA. 

On Tuesday, the Secretary of Education, Dan French, is poised to publish directives for schools and recreation leagues.

Based on that document, the VPA will issue its own guidance for schools regarding logistics like transportation, rest rooms and locker rooms, and Johnson will release a memo to athletic directors about what the state’s regulations mean for specific sports.

The VPA’s input into the state’s planning was limited, Johnson said, advocating for athletic directors to be involved in a task force chaired by Julie Moore, the Secretary of Natural Resources.

MMU huddles together during the first round of the high school girls playoff game between the South Burlington Wolves and the Mount Mansfield Cougars at MMU High School on Wednesday afternoon October 23, 2019 in Jericho, Vermont.

“The governor gave the VPA way too much credit,” Johnson said after Friday’s press conference.

“We had to fight to be involved with this process,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s been great, Julie Moore’s been great, but it was not a process we started and the document that’s been developed was not a document we developed.”

The fall season could be extended by a week from its traditional early-November finales, Johnson said, but no decision has been made to that end.

Prolonging the season any deeper into November, when weather is even less hospitable, could complicate matters further — coming up with postseason venues is already more challenging than ever before.

“The issue then is where do we play? We don’t have access to any collegiate facilities,” Johnson said. “That may be huge come November when playing on turf fields may be the only options we really have.”

What we know now: Masks on field

Although Scott did not address it during his news conference, facial coverings will be required for all sports with the exception of cross-country running, Johnson confirmed after talking to state officials Friday.

Translation: During play and competition, athletes must cover their faces.

“We found out at 8 (a.m.) this morning when we had our conference call,” Johnson said about the facial coverings.

That mandate is a 180 from the guidance that the Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued earlier this summer for youth and recreation sports leagues and teams. Currently, low-impact sports such as soccer are allowed without the face-mask requirement.

Such a move might see some push back, according to longtime South Burlington coach David Martin.

South Burlington's Ben Mazza-Bergeron (9) looks to dribble past two Mount Mansfield defenders during Tuesday night's high school boys soccer game in South Burlington.

“I cannot foresee soccer, which is an aerobic sport, to occur if players are going to need to wear their masks on the field without it severely disrupting their ability to run,” Martin said. “I understand if they are on the bench.”

Martin, though, generally praised Friday’s news.

“I’m glad to see that the certainty of fall sports has been confirmed,” Martin said. “I think a lot of students of high-school age really rely on high school sports, not just as something to do but to express themselves on the field in front of their school and teammates in a sport that they have worked on their entire life.”

Other information the VPA shared with athletic directors on Friday includes: 

  • Practices can begin on the first day of school, Sept. 8.
  • Spectators are limited to 150 people per event.
  • Teams will need to play against Vermont schools or other teams from quarantine-free travel based on the most recent map via the ACCD.
  • Guidance will also apply to middle school athletics.
  • No jamborees — events with more than two schools competing at a site. 

What does this mean for football? 

Rutland's Brady Kenosh (12) tackles CVU's Seth Boffa (27) during the high school football game between the Rutland Raiders and the Champlain Valley Union Redhawks at CVU High School on Saturday afternoon August 31, 2019 in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Scott said more than once Friday that the fall season will look different and won’t be normal.

The question many have at the moment: To what extent?

Those answers will be provided next week when the guidance is released, but almost assuredly football, a high-contact sport, will see modifications to gameplay.

“There will be some options coming out, but I don’t think the traditional football is going to be there,” Johnson said. “I think (Scott) felt it was very, very important to get information out and say, ‘Yes, there is going to be a fall season.’”

When asked directly about the possibility of tackle football this fall, Johnson said: “I have to wait until the document comes out.”

When can games start? 

State officials expect schools to open at Step 2 of their three-tiered re-opening plan, allowing for practices to begin when classes do.

Games will not begin until the state’s Agency of Education, working with the Department of Health, determines all schools can safely move to Step 3 — the most relaxed stage of the re-opening protocol.

Milton's Elizabeth Poirier (12) battles for the ball with South Burlington's Josie Oliveira (7) during the high school girls soccer game between the Milton Yellowjackets and the South Burlington Wolves at Munson Field on Saturday morning September 14, 2019 in South Burlington, Vermont.

Moore estimated that taking “about two weeks” from the start of school if things go as planned.

“We’re being very cautious opening schools at Step 2, which is our step that requires the most stringent health precautions,” said French. “But if all goes well we will be moving to Step 3 fairly quickly in the school year.”

If a school needs to move back to Step 2 because cases of COVID-19 emerge, those decisions would be made on a district-by-district basis, French said. The school might not be able to compete but unaffected schools could move forward.

“With the lowest number of cases in the nation, the lowest positivity rate in the nation, if Vermont can’t do this part and open up sports then no one can,” Scott said. “Because we’re in a great position and as long as we can keep it confined in our state borders I think we’ll be OK.” 

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Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5. Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @eadanforth.

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