Fall sports are cleared to play.
Now it’s in the schools hands.
The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Council on Tuesday gave permission for all fall sports to proceed and delayed the start of practices until Tuesday, Sept. 8.
They also amended a 20-page guidance document to include rules for practices, training sessions, competitions games, and tournaments during the pandemic.
That leaves individual school districts to decide whether to move forward with fall sports (cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer and football).
Local high schools — Colebrook, Groveton, Lisbon, Littleton, Profile, White Mountains Regional and Woodsville — have not made decisions on whether they will participate in a fall sports season.
Woodsville High AD Jonathan Lester sounded a hopeful note, “Given the current situation (meaning that the NHIAA has said fall sports are a go) and that the COVID cases are low for our area, Woodsville as of today [is] still planning on full all seasons. Obviously that could change at any minute.”
Profile School AD Jack Bartlett was cautiously optimistic, “We would like to BUT only if we can create sensible and manageable safety guidelines. Working against us is the nature of sport. Varsity soccer and social distancing don’t exactly go together.”
Lisbon Regional AD Les Poore wondered about the challenges. He teaches physical education (where state guidelines will prohibit contact and sharing of equipment) and also coaches soccer (where contact will be allowed).
“It makes no sense to me that I’ll have a phys ed class where no one shares equipment and we’ll have to sanitize everything, but an hour after school we can have 16 kids play like nothing’s going on. It’s strange,” Poore said.
The NHIAA Council guidance document includes rules for players, coaches, officials, administrators and spectators.
Those rules can be summarized as ‘keep your distance, keep clean.’
Under the rules everyone except for athletes in competition would be expected to wear masks when social distancing is not possible. Schools would appoint staff to enforce health and safety guidelines.
The guidance document splits high school sports into three risk categories. For the fall cross country (with staggered starts) and golf are lower risk, soccer and field hockey are moderate risk, football is higher risk.
The guidance document does not address everything.
One things is schedules. Teams cannot plan their seasons until school districts make up their minds. Another thing is participation. Even if schools move forward with fall sports, it’s unknown if any athletes or coaches will choose to sit out.
In Lisbon, Poore said he would coach boys soccer if the school district gives him the OK, but he questioned how safe it would be.
“I’m very hesitant to say that I can put 16 kids out on a soccer field against another team and say everything is 100 percent fine,”Poore said. “Is it worth it? For some it is, until a family member gets infected, then that changes everybody’s tune in a hurry. It’s a very, very tough situation.”