Winter sports are back.
On Monday, student-athletes at Lamoille Union, Peoples Academy and Stowe High School began limited practices for most of the regular winter sports offered by their respective schools.
The three Lamoille County schools are a bit late to the game compared to some of their counterparts. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced three days before Christmas that high school teams could begin holding non-contact practices.
“Some teams are practicing, but a lot of schools are waiting until Jan. 4,” said Bob Johnson, the associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association. The VPA oversees all high school sports in the state.
The return of high school athletics comes almost two months after an abbreviated fall season wrapped up in mid-November, just as COVID-19 cases started to surge again in Vermont.
Gov. Scott’s announcement on Dec. 22 came with a number of caveats; athletes and coaches must still wear masks while practicing or playing.
“Masks will be worn by everyone, whether it’s skiing or basketball,” Johnson said. There is also currently a cap on how many athletes are allowed in any enclosed space at a given time during practice, and limitations on spectators are expected if and when competitions begin. No contact is currently allowed, meaning hockey and basketball practices right now look much different than they do in a traditional season.
A few winter sports, like indoor track and field and wrestling, have already been completely canceled for the year.
Along with boys’ and girls’ basketball and hockey, other winter sports teams are now able to practice, including Nordic skiing and dance.
With some form of practice allowed, Johnson said he and his staff, and teams across the state, are now just waiting for the green light to move to full-contact practices, then scrimmages, later this month. The start of actual competition won’t come until later.
The VPA had initially planned and scheduled to begin winter competitions Jan. 11, about a month after games and races typically start in a regular year, but that’s not going to happen now, Johnson said.
“Realistically, it will be pushed back a few weeks,” he said, adding that once full-contact practices are allowed “we need at least two weeks,” before actual games can begin. His organization has already pushed back the end date for all winter sports to the final weekend in March, which is when possible title games could be played. Typically, boys and girls hockey and basketball wrap up their seasons with championship games in early and mid March.
Johnson said there are still some questions that need to be addressed for certain sports, like how many players and coaches will be allowed on the bench during a hockey game. Teams typically have their entire squad on the bench during a game, which can translate to roughly 20 players and a handful of coaches and staff.
Some indoor winter sports, like hockey and basketball, have complicated the winter season, but Johnson said the success of the outdoor fall season for soccer, field hockey, and even close-contact sports like football give hope that a similar spring season for baseball, softball, lacrosse and tennis could be held in April and May. Athletes lost their spring seasons entirely in 2020 as the pandemic first struck Vermont and the nation.
“We will have a spring season,” Johnson said. “What it will look like, I don’t know yet.”
He added that Scott’s task force regarding high school sports plans to meet about the spring season soon.