Young athletes around Vermont received an early Christmas surprise on Tuesday.
Beginning Saturday, school-based and youth recreational sports teams can begin practices with individual skills and strength and conditioning drills, Gov. Phil Scott announced in his twice-weekly news briefing.
“This means no contact, physical distancing and mask-wearing at all times,” Scott said.
Eric Berry, athletics director at Lyndon Institute, was excited about the news.
“First and foremost, I am ecstatic for the kids,” he said. “Our student-athletes just want to get in the gym, the rink or cheer or ski. It’s long overdue. The kids want to play their respective sports. It’s time to get moving.”
Spectators are prohibited from all activities. Adult recreation leagues remain paused.
Recreational sports were put on hold back on Nov. 14. School-based athletics, originally scheduled to begin on Nov. 30, were paused Nov. 24 because of a rise in coronavirus cases.
With schools breaking for the holidays, it was uncertain whether area programs would begin practicing on short notice.
At LI, Berry said a decision would be made on a start date within the next 24 hours.
At St. J Academy, athletics director John Lenzini was targeting a Jan. 4 date to begin non-contact skills and drills.
“Admittedly, I was a bit surprised that Gov. Scott announced a possible December start date for winter sports practices,” Lenzini said. “While we will take our time to roll out a safe path forward, having our student-athletes out and doing what they love is exciting for all of us.”
According to the Burlington Free Press, Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, said Tuesday’s news also caught him off guard.
The VPA had pinpointed Jan. 11 as a return-to-competition date, but that is unrealistic at this point, Johnson said. Scott still needs to give the green light for teams to scrimmage, conduct full practices and lift the no-games mandate.
“I think we are talking at least another month if not longer before we actually look at games,” Johnson said.
In response to a question on how long cases would need to hold steady or decline before games would be considered, Gov. Scott said: “I would say certainly we want to watch what happens over the holidays, Christmas and New Years. So you take 7-14 days after both those days, that will give us a good indication of what’s going on. So that’s what we will be watching.
“I would anticipate we would be able to make some decisions by mid-January.”
The VPA last month said it could extend the winter season to March 26-27, if necessary.