With football already being included in the Fall-2 Sports schedule proposed by the MIAA during a gap season at the conclusion of the winter sports season and the start of the 2021 spring sports season, Tri-County High opted to also erase the fall boys and girls soccer programs, cross country and golf from the calendar due to the health and safety concerns for student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re hoping that by delaying, we will give more kids opportunities to play,” Tri-County High Athletic Director Sarah Martin said of moving the school’s entire fall schedule to the Fall-2 calendar, which is slated to begin Feb. 22. “Hopefully, the modifications will change a bit by then as well.”
There were extensive discussions among the Tri-County High administration and athletic staff, as well as with its Mayflower League peers, as to the direction and guidance from the MIAA and the state for athletic programs.
“The Mayflower League schools are the schools that we are most competitive with and the thought of having to replace that schedule with non-league opponents was a big part,” Martin said. “And because of transportation issues, we wouldn’t be able to run a full slate of sub-varsity programs.
“We needed to focus on getting back to school first before sports.”
The MIAA Board of Directors voted to postpone athletic programs to Sept. 18 to reflect the delay in the opening date for school systems statewide. As a result of the fall sports programs being postponed, student-athletes will not be able to work out together in large groups.
“The policy for our league was no out-of-season coaching,” Tri-County High football coach Kahn Chace said of being unable to guide his Cougars through offseason workouts, captains’ practices or 7-on-7 non-contact drills.
Other than optional strength and conditioning workouts offered for all Tri-County Regional High student-athletes within the school, no combined team workouts or training sessions will be allowed.
“Because we have so many kids coming from so many different towns, we’re going to be cautious,” Kahn said of the Tri-County High’s administration’s strict stance on social distancing and attempting to minimize chances for transmission of the virus. “The kids want to do stuff, but the school has its priorities.”
Tri-County High volleyball coach Steph Caffrey was similarly in support of the proposal to postpone the season, especially considering the various guidelines for the sport by the MIAA’s Task Force.
One new MIAA guideline that has the most impact on the volleyball court is, “to reduce intermittent contact with opponents, front row plays will be restricted from traditionally attacking the ball while the ball is above or in front of the 3-foot line.”
There are also concerns over the rotation of game balls, huddles, timeouts, substitutions and players wearing a face mask while on the floor.
“The girls were disappointed, but the girls saw that with the season not being canceled, just postponed, they saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cafferty said. “It was OK, we’re still going to have a season so that fuels the fire.”
Members of the Tri-County High volleyball program participated in a summer league at Mass. Premier Courts. Now that the fall volleyball season has been squashed, many of those same Cougars will play in a fall volleyball league at Mass. Premier Courts.
Likewise with the restrictions on the number of participants, Tri-County would have been unable to field a sub-varsity program, with Caffrey being limited to 15 players for the varsity team.
‘That would kill the program,” Caffrey said. “Now we know that in February and March, we can build something.
“With that (fall and winter programs at MPC) we have the potential for more volleyball, we got lucky with that,” Caffrey added of the Cougars now competing in an almost 12-month cycle. “They’re trying to stay positive about what’s to come.”
There remain much uncertainty and moving parts to the success of athletic programs for the fall season. With extensive health and safety measures governing practices, locker room decorum and game management, the hope by the MIAA is to conduct fair, equitable and safe competition in all sports, other than football.
“Our plan was to keep going (in all sports other than football),” Chace said of mid-summer discussions among the coaches and administration.
However, when the Mayflower League proposed the idea of canceling the entire fall season because of concerns for traveling and competition in a wide geographic area, the chance for transmission of virus was too great to overlook.
“All of the schools were doing something different, so it didn’t make sense,” Chace said.
Furthermore, if Tri-County High went ahead with a fall schedule without Mayfower League competition, teams would be forced into scrambling to schedule non-league competition. The potential for Tri-County games against nearby Hockomock League member schools such as King Philip, North Attleboro and Franklin was undesirable from a purely competitive standpoint.
“I wish that we could play now, but in the long run, I think that the plan is pretty good,” Chace said of a football season in March and April, “though I shudder to think what some of the grass football fields are going to look like.”
Martin said it was common sense and prudence to “get it right” with postponing the fall athletic calendar instead of having to react a few weeks into the season were cases of the corona virus developed among student-athletes, coaches, staff and game administrators.
“We’ll start with strength and conditioning programs for all of the kids, to get moving again,” Martin explained. “We decided as a league that we were not going to allow for out of season coaching, but we will do our traditional strength and conditioning for all athletes.
“We didn’t want to rush into anything. The coaches were all disappointed. Like for volleyball, when we read through all of the modifications and taking away net play completely, maybe it wasn’t worth it right now. “Maybe it made sense to wait. We didn’t want the season to start up and then have to shut it down. It was the smart move for us.”