WESTFIELD – Are you ready for some football?
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted Friday to approve the Fall II season, which includes among other sports, football, with sport-specific modifications determined by the MIAA’s COVID-19 Task Force.
The high school football season is expected to kick off March 1 with the first games expected on or around March 12.
“Today’s actions by the MIAA’s Board of Directors are the culmination of the work of our membership committed to establishing optimal standards of health and safety that will provide the restoration of fall sports for thousands of MIAA student-athletes,” MIAA Executive Director Bill Gaine said in a prepared statement.
In addition to football, indoor track, cheerleading and Unified Basketball have been approved for the Fall II season, which runs from Feb. 22 through April 25. The Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference has approved a March 1 start date. Although sports, such as cross country, golf, field hockey, soccer and girls volleyball were played this past fall at high schools like Westfield and Westfield Technical Academy, and St. Mary’s in the City of Westfield, some local districts, such as Southwick Regional School, moved some of them to Fall II.
The winter sports season, which involves the basketball, ice hockey, swimming and diving, and ski teams, began recently. With a return to the classroom in Southwick, the Rams are expected to begin play this week.
Although football has been given the green light, each school district and/or their local Boards of Health will still need to give the final go-ahead.
“We made adjustments in the fall and had a successful first season,” MIAA President Jeffrey Granatino explained. “We made additional modifications for the winter and our student-athletes have been actively engaged since December. Now we are hopeful that with the guidance from the Governor’s office and of EEA, along with the work of our various committees, that we will be able to have a safe and successful Fall II season.”
There were very few modifications made to high school football that would alter the true nature of the game, with more emphasis actually given to social distancing practices and protocols, as well as mask-wearing.
“We will take the option of playing under modified rules or guidelines … without having to change the game … when the alternative is sitting at home doing nothing,” Westfield High School head football coach Rob Parent said. “I think our job is to provide the kids with the opportunity. …This is some minor normality, giving our kids something that seems normal.”
There are expected to be six games played over a seven-to-eight week period of time.
“We are looking forward to playing,” coach Parent said. “We will get our seniors their last look and treat it like spring football – – get other guys ready for the upcoming season in the fall when we are hoping for a normal schedule.”
Although there is optimism, the Bombers head coach said he still has some reservations with the guidelines currently in place.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m super excited we are playing,” coach Parent said, “but with these restrictions it’s going to be hard to for some of the these players to play a physical game right away in our first game, never mind turning around on a Monday and getting ready to play four days later. Football is a grueling sport. You can’t just walk in the door and play.”
Football practices, as they are now deemed under the current rules modifications, are not allowed indoors.
“I don’t see why practice indoors is that far outside the norm, when you consider that they are playing basketball, hockey, and volleyball games indoors,” coach Parent explained. “We could easily separate our teams into pods.”
Another obstacle that football teams will be challenged with, according to Parent, is the limited number of coaches allowed on the sidelines. The Bombers currently have 10 coaches on the football team’s coaching staff. There is currently a limit of six on the sidelines under the new guidelines. Although two coaches are expected to be positioned high atop the press box, they are working toward a plan on where to position the remaining two.