After navigating the return to school and the return to high school sports during the fall, Hopkinton High School athletic director Rich Cormier said the lessons learned from that season will inform the winter slate scheduled to begin Dec. 14.
Hopkinton plans to offer an aggressive slate of sports, going beyond many other area schools in an effort to get more athletes competing even as the state fights through a second wave in the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest differences between the Hillers and many of the other schools in the state is the plan to offer winter track.
“We have upwards of 200 student athletes who compete in winter track, and many of them also lost out on their spring season,” Cormier said. “So we feel we are in the best position right now to give them an opportunity to be with their team and to train.”
But training for the HHS track teams will not be as simple as using the athletic center, which has largely been converted into socially distant classroom/lunch space. While the basketball court will be usable this winter, the track teams will have to practice outside and will hope to compete with some of the other area schools in meets at Wheaton College, Cormier said.
The MIAA officially moved winter track to the so-called Fall 2 season, which begins in late February. The hope is that more indoor track facilities would be open by then and allow most schools to be able to compete. But Cormier is skeptical.
“The reality is, I don’t believe the Reggie Lewis Center is going to open for Fall 2 either,” he said, referring to the indoor track facility in Boston. “Competing now gives our students the chance to compete and try to set personal bests and do so under the watch of an official.”
In addition to indoor track, HHS plans to offer boys and girls basketball, boys and girls ice hockey and alpine skiing this winter. Wrestling and competitive cheerleading, which are traditional winter sports, will be moved to the spring. Another winter sport that is going to launch for some schools, swimming and diving, will not take place until Fall 2 for Hopkinton.
“It’s not a safety situation, we just do not have access to a pool,” Cormier said.
Even for the sports that are a “go” for the winter, numerous questions and details still remain. Hopkinton and other schools in the ski league are working with Ski Ward to figure out the logistics, including how many athletes might be allowed on the mountain at one time and how many are allowed to race.
With no locker room facilities available, arrival times also have become important. Instead of athletes arriving at a facility early to warm up and change, buses will need to be scheduled to make sure athletes spend as little time at a venue as possible — competing shortly after arrival and leaving shortly after the competition is over.
“The logistics in every single sport is going to look a lot different,” Cormier said.
The bench area in hockey is one that will be a challenge to figure out since there is not a realistic way to maintain social distancing between coaches and players at most facilities. Cormier said he was planning a walk-through at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough last week to see what the hockey teams might have to do to space themselves safely during games.
In basketball, Hopkinton will have to balance court time between eight teams. Both the boys and girls will field varsity, junior varsity, freshman and middle school squads. Fortunately for the Hillers, there is enough space in the athletic center to permit adequate spacing on the benches and allow for some spectators, should guidelines permit. That will not be the case everywhere and it’s not yet assured for Hopkinton either, Cormier cautioned.
“We are waiting as a league and as a school to make a decision on spectators,” he said. “We don’t play until January and we don’t know what the COVID situation is going to be at that time. It would be nice for parents to watch their sons and daughters play, but it’s just not going to be possible for everyone.”
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the sports themselves should look pretty much like they always do. The jump ball is out for basketball, as are out-of-bounds plays near the basket, but the rest of the game is, more or less, the same. Cormier said the state eliminated guidance that called for contact to be removed from the games, which allows hockey and basketball to play without the severe limitations imposed on soccer and field hockey.
“Even though parents and students were frustrated, I think they understood the fall was different,” Cormier said. “People erred on the side of caution and tried to make sure they provided the safest environment possible and went above and beyond what was probably needed to make that happen.”