Vermont high school sports will move forward this fall, Gov. Phil Scott said during a press conference on Friday.
The announcement applies to the full slate of fall sports: Cross country, soccer, field hockey, football, cheerleading, volleyball, bass fishing and golf.
Pre-season practice is scheduled to begin Sept. 8. Competition is expected to resume later that month, with eligibility tied to COVID-19 health data. First game dates are to be determined.
“I know many have been wondering if there was going to be a season at all. We wanted to make it clear: There will be,” Scott said.
The state’s decision to proceed with fall sports — made in conjunction with the Vermont Principals Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, athletic directors and coaches — was tied to the state’s COVID-19 rates, Scott said.
Vermont has the lowest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and second lowest cases per 100,000 residents in the nation.
“If Vermont can’t do this part and open up sports, then no one can,” he said. “As long as we can keep it confined within our state borders I think we’ll be OK.”
Scott warned there will be changes to protect against COVID-19.
“This wont be a normal season but our goal is to offer a path forward for each of these sports. To give our kids some sense of normalcy in abnormal times,” he said. “Things will look much different. Especially when it comes to high contact sports.”
The Agency of Education will release a guidance document with full details on Tuesday.
It is expected to require facial coverings for all sports participants (except for cross country), limit spectator attendance to 150 per event, and prohibit jamborees.
However the guidance document will not answer all questions.
Still to be done: Schools must green light fall sports at the local level, develop testing and enforcement procedures, and resolve scheduling issues. Teams will likely face regional opponents this season to reduce travel and exposure. To ease scheduling concerns during the pandemic, the VPA has announced open tournaments, which eliminates games-played requirements.
In addition, the VPA must determine the season start date. They can push it back a week, if there is a compelling health of scheduling reason. One factor will be the availability of college venues for neutral site playoff games.
VPA Executive Director Bob Johnson hopes the high school season can replicate the successes of the summer youth and recreation sports seasons (no surges in COVID-19) while addressing its failures (some groups did not follow health guidelines during games and practices). He said shirking the rules will not be tolerated at the middle and high school levels.
“The good news is there was no spike, the bad new is the guidelines aren’t flexible,” he said.
Governor Scott’s announcement comes as good news for local coaches and athletes.
“I think it’s positive, it shows the commitment from the governor and the Department of Education to see that extracurriculars are involved in students lives,” said St. Johnsbury Academy football head coach Rich Alercio. “For a lot of these kids the motivating force everyday is extracurriculars.”
It’s especially good new for football. With the season no longer in question, Vermont football squads now wait to see how the game will be played during the pandemic.
Alercio predicted teams would not play 11 on 11 tackle football in the social distance era.
One thing’s for sure, he said, “It’s unlikely we’ll play football the way we’ve played it for the last 100 years.”