More changes, restrictions announced for HHS fall sports

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Hopkinton High School athletic director Rich Cormier, in a presentation to the School Committee on Thursday night, said fall sports tryouts have been pushed back to Sept. 26, volleyball has been moved to the new fourth season that starts in February, and middle school fall sports have been canceled.

Additionally, spectators will not be allowed for fall sports — at least to start the season. Cormier said the school is working with HCAM to livestream as many events as possible, including sub-varsity teams.

Normally fall sports tryouts take place before the first day of school. However, this year is anything but normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the focus is on making sure the transition back to the classroom goes smoothly before adding extracurriculars.

“We’re going to wait to allow school to actually get started for a full week before we start to bring athletics into the fold,” Cormier said.

Golf is the lone exception, because the season can’t run too late due to weather and because it’s held off site. Golf tryouts will start Sept. 18, with the first contest no earlier than Sept. 25.

For the other fall sports — cross country, soccer and field hockey — the season will start no earlier than Oct. 10 and end by Nov. 20. There is no state tournament.

Football, cheer, unified basketball and now volleyball will be played in the second fall season — called a “floating season” — that will start in late February and end in late April.

The fall teams will be in a geographically formed “pod” with five other Tri-Valley League schools: Ashland, Holliston, Medway, Bellingham and Norton. There will be no games or scrimmages against any other opponents.

Prior to the first game, teams can practice daily, with one day off per week. Athletes will not be allowed in the locker rooms. They will have to use bathroom stalls to change after school.

Once the games start, teams will be limited to three weekday practices, while all games will be on weekends. Rosters will be limited to 20 for games.

Soccer and field hockey will play a home-and-home against the same opponent on Saturday and Sunday of a given weekend. Cross country will have a meet each Saturday.

“We’re trying to limit our exposure to one community per week,” Cormier said. “So if there were any issues, it really drastically reduces the impact.”

Playing games on weekends addresses issues related to transportation, the threat of Eastern equine encephalitis, a shortage of officials and availability of the school’s trainer, Cormier said.

“The last [reason] is no one will have to come into our building,” Cormier said. “By playing on Saturday and Sunday everyone will show up dressed, ready to go for their game. We will provide bathrooms, but other than that they will come dressed, ready to go, both the home and away team. So it really reduces how many people are coming into our building.”

Additional safety protocols will be in place as well, and Cormier said any athlete who does not adhere to the rules will be subject to dismissal from their team.

There will be no freshman soccer games — only practices — as no other schools in Hopkinton’s TVL pod field freshman teams, Cormier said. Freshman soccer players will pay a reduced fee because of this ($150, compared to $200 for others).

Because volunteers are not being accepted for school activities at this time, and teams normally have volunteer assistant coaches, Cormier requested one assistant coach for each of the six fall teams to be paid a stipend of $2,000 to ensure “that we don’t have those gaps at all, that we have that proper supervision.” Cormier said there is money available in the budget to cover the $12,000 total. After some discussion — and a request to look at all the school-related stipend positions during the next round of contract negotiations with the Hopkinton Teachers Association this fall to ensure there is equity — the committee unanimously approved the request.

With middle school fall sports being canceled and other students perhaps looking for more athletic opportunities, there will be a strength and conditioning program added for Grades 7-12. It will run right after school from Sept. 29-Nov. 20 on the outdoor fields. Students will be placed in groups of no more than 25 and attend on their day in school.

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