Update: Gov. Phil Scott Tuesday pushed back the start of school to Sept. 8.
High school sports will start late, if at all, this fall.
The Vermont Principals’ Association, which governs high school athletics, has decided activities for all fall athletic teams can’t start until school begins — now scheduled for late August.
The association had been looking at Aug. 10 as a possible start for fall practices, but Bob Johnson, the associate executive director, said guidance from the Agency of Education and Department of Health about how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that sports can’t begin until school actually begins.
“We didn’t really have much of a choice,” Johnson said, given the coronavirus guidance.
Fall sports affected by the decision are bass fishing, cross country running, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and volleyball.
The decision comes three months after the Vermont Principals’ Association postponed, then pulled the plug entirely on the spring season for all high school sports because of the pandemic.
Johnson said the association was considering an Aug. 10 start date for preseason activities so kids could get out of the house and see their friends again.
“We were worried about the lack of participation in anything over the summer,” Johnson said. “We wanted to give them something, but then that was taken out of our hands.”
For some fall sports, the delay may actually be a cancellation.
Under current state guidelines for recreation and organized sports, football isn’t allowed. Johnson said that could change if the governor issues new guidelines for organized sports, but he hasn’t yet.
He’s worried about volleyball, too.
“It’s the only indoor sport in the fall,” Johnson said. Right now, Vermont allows crowds of up to 150 only at certain outdoor events; will indoor recreation be allowed when kids head back to school in a little over a month? Athletes huffing and puffing in an enclosed space is a bad idea in a pandemic.
Johnson said the association wants to hold a fall sports season, but it may be abbreviated. Under current conditions, play wouldn’t start until mid-September.
“Right now we’re recommending to schools, all you do with your schedule is drop your first two or three games,” Johnson said.
The Vermont Principals’ Association typically requires teams to play a certain number of games to qualify for postseason play, but that’s been waived this year.
“We’re creating an open tournament,” Johnson said. “You’re welcome no matter how many games you’ve played.”
Another question: Where would championship games be played? Many title games are held on college campuses. With many Vermont colleges canceling their fall sports — the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and Northern Vermont University among them — Johnson isn’t sure that those schools would then agree to host high school championships.
Johnson said the current plan is to hold state championship events for all fall sports by the first or second weekend of November, just like any other year.
He and his staff are in regular contact with state officials about how to proceed and will follow guidance from the Agency of Education and Health Department, even if it means canceling fall sports altogether.
“We want them to be out there,” Johnson said. “We understand completely that not being able to participate in sports, or being in school, creates a lot of anxiety and other issues.
“There’s the flip side of that, though: Our No. 1 concern is the health and safety of students.”