Student athletes protest postponing sports in Southwick

Student athletes from Southwick Regional School hold signs and chant Sept. 8, 2020 in protest of the decision to postpone sports. (MARC ST. ONGE/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

SOUTHWICK – Student athletes Sept. 8 protested a decision of the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School Committee that postpones fall sports at Southwick Regional School.

At least 60 students gathered in the parking lot near Powder Mill School. They wore masks, held signs and chanted “We need sports” and “Re-vote” as they circled the outside of Superintendent Jennifer Willard’s office and walked along Powder Mill Road where cars beeped and motorists cheered.

The committee Sept. 2 approved Willard’s plan to follow MIAA recommendations that schools could choose to postpone fall sports until February, creating a “Fall II” season.

The problem with that, said students and coaches Tuesday, is that sports such as golf and soccer cannot be played in the snow. And, they said, nearly every school in surrounding communities are playing fall sports.

“We’re going to have no one to play in a Fall II season,” said Southwick Regional School soccer co-captain Brennen Vinesett. “It’s not fair to us to be the only school to have sports taken away, especially when Southwick has been one of the best towns as far as having low COVID cases.”

Members of the Southwick Regional School soccer team, Paul Whalley, William Shtefan, John Cammisa and Brennen Vinesett, along with Aleksey Shtefan, protest the postponement of fall sports. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Fellow co-captain John Cammisa said for him and his teammates, playing soccer together means “everything.”

“As a senior, I have been playing with the team for four years, and playing with the same group of kids since I was 6-years-old,” Cammisa said.

Cammisa noted that many students rely on athletic scholarships to help pay for college and taking away an entire season could affect their scholarship opportunities.

“It’s like taking college away,” he said.

For William Shtefan, also a soccer captain, sports is a productive way to spend time and make friends.

“For some kids it’s a way to keep busy, stay out of trouble, maybe it’s an unhealthy environment at home,” he said. “This is our second family, and for some it’s their first family.”

Co-captain Paul Whalley agreed, and said “the fields are our safe place.”

Vinesett said it’s also their happy place.

“Whatever is bothering us or going wrong disappears when we are on the field,” he said.

All captains agreed that playing soccer also motivates them to do well and try harder academically.

Girls Varsity Soccer Coach Clarke Moore and Boys Varsity Soccer Coach Chris Whalley, who are both parents of athletes, said they were proud of the students who protested Tuesday.

“This is really a student-led event,” said Moore. “It’s important for them to fight for what they believe in, respectfully.”

Whalley said their goal was to show their passion and have the committee vote again.

“The kids are here to try to change the vote,” Whalley said. “I’m proud as a parent and a coach – it’s great to see them come together to try to accomplish this.”

Whalley and Moore agree with their athletes that it is unfair to move fall sports when surrounding communities are playing.

“For these kids, school and the fields are where they can be together,” said Moore. “This is where the community is. It’s not right to take that away when other schools are playing.”

He added that it is also safer.

“With sports, we get these kids for an additional two or three hours after school in a controlled environment,” he said. “Without sports, they will find places to hang out and there’s no guarantee they will be wearing masks or be socially distant.”

Parents also supported the protest and stood by cheering their children. Some parents said they did not understand why the committee voted to remove fall sports. One parent of a golf player said she did not understand why it wasn’t safe to play golf, which is an outdoor, no-contact sport where players do not stand close together.

The committee members issued a written statement Tuesday stating that “while the District recognizes and appreciates the value of the athletics experience, the first priority during this pandemic is to ensure the health and wellness of our school community.”



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