WESTFIELD – Local student-athletes who participate in high school winter sports will soon receive a holiday gift.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted late last week to approve basketball, ice hockey, swimming/diving, and skiing for the high school winter sports season. Although the MIAA also came to an agreement to begin the 2020-21 winter sports season on Dec. 14, the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference has delayed the season’s official start date until Jan. 4, 2021 for Western Mass area high schools, which includes Westfield, Westfield Technical Academy and St. Mary’s.
The MIAA, based on recommendations made by their respective COVID Task Force committees, opted to move indoor track to the floating “Fall II” season, and wrestling has been put on hold until spring.
“I think it’s very positive,” Westfield/Westfield Technical Academy high schools coordinator Ryan Dunphy said. “We are giving the chance for kids to participate and still allowing the other sports [i.e. wrestling, indoor track] that are a bit more complicated (due to the state’s guidelines regarding the coronavirus) the opportunity too.”
In order to comply with state and local regulations, jump balls have been eliminated from basketball. Modifications to hockey involve limiting play along the boards to just one offensive and one defensive player and keeping the penalty box free from all but one player at a time with additional players positioned on the bench as close to the box as possible while maintaining six feet between players, among others. In swimming, cheering from the pool deck area will not be allowed. Masks are required for all student-athletes as well.
Although the modifications to each sport may appear to be yet another obstacle in the overall progress of student-athletes’ success, if the fall sports season was any indication, there is still optimism about playing sports this winter.
“(The fall season) was incredible,” Dunphy said. “It was a success. …I would walk outside on the fields and inside the gym, and you could just see the kids were focused.”
While the Westfield School Committee has already given Westfield and Westfield Technical Academy the green light for winter sports, it is unknown which direction Southwick will take. Southwick was one of the region’s lone high schools which opted to cancel high school sports this past fall. The School Committee, which serves the Southwick-Tolland-Granville area, is expected to vote on the winter season Dec. 15.
Challenges abound all around.
Co-op ice hockey programs like Southwick’s boys ice hockey team, which co-ops with Westfield Tech and St. Mary’s, and the Longmeadow girls ice hockey team, which has featured a large contingent of players from Westfield, will likely require some out-of-the-box thinking in regards to logistics involving play in local “bubbles.”
Similar to the fall, there will be no MIAA-sanctioned postseason tournaments. Registration for the winter sports season is now open.
“I’m just excited that after the holidays there will be a winter season,” Dunphy said.
St. Mary’s principal/athletic director Matt Collins agreed. “We will have a shortened season just like we did in the fall,” Collins said. “I am optimistic that the coaches and players will follow the sport-specific rule modifications.