H.S. athletics: Late start to Vermont school year means delays for fall sports

Burke Mountain Academy tops visiting Lake Region 3-0 in a girls soccer game on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (Photo by Michael Beniash)

High school sports cannot begin practicing for the fall season until the first day of in-school instruction, according to the Vermont Principals’ Association.

That clarification comes after Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Phil Scott that Vermont schools will have a universal start date of Sept. 8, a week or more later than originally planned, in order to provide more time to prepare for starting the new school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The VPA announced in early July that it would be pushing the start of fall preseason activities from Aug. 10 to the first day of school. The post-Labor Day start date doesn’t change that stance.

“Schools can start practice on their first day of in-school instruction. So if it is September 8th, then that is when practices can start,” wrote Bob Johnson, VPA associate executive director, in an email.

Steps to resuming games

Johnson said the bigger issue for resuming competition is where the state will be in its three-tiered model for loosening restrictions on schools outlined in the Scott administration’s “Strong and Healthy Start” strategy. That plan outlined how procedures will change based on a three-tiered model with a progressive drop in restrictions:

• Step 1: Schools remain closed, remote learning takes place.

• Step 2: Schools are open with enhanced distancing measures for those who live in the geographic area only.

• Step 3: Schools are open with enhanced distancing measures. Attendance is restricted to those from limited transmission areas only.

Currently, Johnson said, Vermont schools are poised to start the fall semester at Step 2 — but achieving Step 3 would be required to play games, unlike the non-scholastic activities permitted this summer.

“Schools are in a different category, we respond to the Secretary of Education,” Johnson told the Free Press last month. “When we talk about going back to school, we’re talking about not only the school team but the school environment those students have to be in all day long. That’s much more in-depth than just going to a practice or playing a game for your local (summer) team.”

Field hockey, football, soccer, volleyball, cross-country running, golf and bass fishing are the VPA’s sanctioned varsity sports during fall months.

Typically, after preseason obligations are fulfilled, teams are allowed to schedule their first game on the final Friday or Saturday in August with the postseason occuring in late October and early November. It’s likely that if a season takes shape this fall it will be shorter than the usual offering because of the pandemic.

Due to the health crisis, the VPA had to cancel the remainder of the girls basketball playoffs in March, and then shelved all of the spring season, a decision that was held off until the end of April.

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