Questions remain regarding fall sports

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On Monday afternoon, Gov. Gina Raimondo gave all but two Rhode Island school districts the green light to hold in-person classes starting on September 14. It is up to each district to make their own decision on how the school year will be approached, but the governor has at least allowed all options with the announcement.

Back in early August, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League held a virtual press conference to address its plan of action in regards to fall sports. It laid out a rough guideline as to how the season would look based on the early information it had, but said that things would really pick up once the governor made her official announcement yesterday.

Now, from what I understand, the league will be moving fast to establish a concrete fall sports plan and we may see developments any day now, maybe even by week’s end. Now is when it gets interesting … many kids will likely be in the classroom, other summer sports have had success in safely competing, what will this new information mean for a potential fall sports season and what could we possibly be looking at here?

First off, and this is based entirely on speculation, I believe the league and local coaches and athletic directors will fight hard for a full slate of sports in the fall.

If you recall, back in August, the league said that it anticipated a shortened fall season with a limited amount of sports being able to go on, with the remaining ones potentially taking place in the spring. Although this plan is better than cancelling certain sports altogether, it is a bit messy, and I am sure we will be seeing a strong push for the full list of sports to return.

Personally, I feel that it is possible to play all fall sports while being safe. Of course, there is risk regarding any public event and there will likely be strong rules regarding COVID-19 safety, especially for a sport like football.

But seeing the number of leagues and camps that went on this summer and the very few issues that arose, I am optimistic that the state and league can pull off all sports.

However, having said that, I am a little pessimistic when thinking about whether or not that will come to fruition. Many states in this country, including Massachusetts, have cancelled high school football, many others are on the fence, and the fact that the league in August stated that it anticipated a new-look schedule at least makes me think that it has had internal discussions already and has some doubt that football and a few other sports will be able to be played.

The next question is whether or not kids should be allowed to compete in sports if their district goes with virtual learning or the hybrid model. Or if kids are able to opt out of in-person learning, how will that affect those individuals?

Now, I do not have children of my own so I cannot speak to this issue as a parent, which I am sure would change things, but I do not believe that that should be a factor when it comes to sports.

Do I understand why that may rub people the wrong way and the points being made in opposition? Sure, but I feel that the two scenarios are far enough off to warrant after school sports regardless of where the daily learning will take place.

There is a big difference between cramming 20, 30 kids into the same room and up to 1,000 kids into one building at a time versus 20, 30 kids onto a large, outdoor field. For indoor learning, I did not even mention the other teachers, faculty, administration. I do find it hard to believe that schools will be able to avoid large breakouts within the walls of the building, but when thinking about outdoor sports, I do feel like that is quite doable. 

Back in August, the league said that it will allow schools districts to make their own decisions regarding this issue, so now let’s see what follows here in the next few days and weeks.

The last question I have is: How will potential schedules and practice participation be affected, especially for Providence-based schools?

Will these schools in Providence and any others that are doing virtual classes be required to provide transportation to games? Will kids meet at the schools? Will they have to seek alternative ways to get to practices and games?

That could be a massive disadvantage in my opinion. If a school is fully in session, the kids usually have a short walk from the doors to the practice field. Attendance will be close to 100 percent each day, no questions asked.

However, throw in the transportation issue, attendance could become an issue and hurt a team’s ability to hit its peak performance. Or even beyond that, what if an athlete is unable to make an actual game?

These are all questions for a reason … we do not know the answer yet. Hopefully we will get the answer here soon, and it seems like we will.

Overall, I feel very optimistic that there will be multiple sports this fall, I would just about guarantee it. The question of which sports and how exactly they will be executed will be sorted out soon, so I am curious to see what unfolds.

I am all for a full season of sports. Of course, with restrictions and perhaps even some rule changes, but I do feel like it is possible to pull off. The governor’s announcement should now open the door for progress to be made, which should excite us all as we enter the final days of summer.

More than anything though, safety must come first. As happy as I am to see us on the cusp of having an official fall sports season, the top priority must be keeping people safe. Although the issues I brought up did not relate to COVID-19 safety concerns, I feel like that is a given.

Of course, every single sport will need to be adjusted to meet the COVID safety guidelines, so let’s hope for the best as we wait for the next step. 

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