PROVIDENCE – There’s no reason for concern presently. It’s still game on for R.I. high school fall sports.
The fields and stadiums will be quiet places, however, after Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday elected to place spectators in a two-week timeout where they’ll be prohibited from in-person viewing of their favorite athlete and his/her teammates.
While high school athletes and coaches appear to have dodged a major bullet, Interscholastic League Executive Director Mike Lunney told the Times/Call that now is not the time to start easing up on important measures such as mask-wearing. Earlier this week, the RIIL provided a clue as to what the postseason will look like by releasing brackets for soccer (boys and girls) along with girls tennis and field hockey. It was also confirmed that cross-country states will in fact take place at Ponaganset High on Saturday, Nov. 14.
“It’s good news, but our focus continues to be on the participation of kids. That’s what we were able to preserve,” said Lunney. “We’ve got to continue our efforts with all the protocols to make sure we can preserve the rest of the season. What we’re hearing loud and clear from the governor is that these next two weeks are important.”
The decision to set a firm tone by banning fans effective immediately from all youth and high school sporting events was, per Raimondo, the result of congregating too close together along with letting one’s guard down regarding masks.
“The reality is that the high school sports season only has a few weeks left before they start the playoffs. I really want these kids to be allowed to finish their season,” said Raimondo. “One way for us to do that is to not go be spectators.”
For several high schools in the Blackstone Valley, complying with the directive of fan-free zones won’t be a problem. Before the season, Central Falls, Shea, St. Raphael, and Tolman agreed to close their home soccer venue to all spectators. At schools such as Burrillville, Mount St. Charles, and Lincoln, clearance was given to allow for two fans per athlete. For at minimum the next two weeks, the parents and guardians will have to rely on getting updates via social media accounts or wait for a more accurate description once the athletes have departed from school grounds.
“The reason why it’s two weeks … the choices were shut it down or do you let them finish their season? We’re seeing as much of a problem with spectators as we are with kids. We’re asking parents to hold back for two weeks,” said Raimondo in response to a question from a Times/Call sports reporter.
The two-week period will include no spectators at Saturday’s freshman and junior varsity cross-country state meets at East Greenwich High, and next Saturday’s class meets. One of the conditions that Ponaganset High made in agreeing to host the state meet on Nov. 14 was that fans would not be permitted.
Also over the next two weeks, fans won’t be allowed for regular-season games in soccer and field hockey as well as the early rounds of the tennis playoffs. In tennis, Championship Saturday is Nov. 14 – one day after the governor’s two-week moratorium period will conclude and another decision will have to be made regarding the playoffs in soccer and field hockey that get underway on Monday, Nov. 16.
“Bear with us now so you can go watch the kids in the playoffs,” said Raimondo. “The coaches and leaders of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League have been amazing …Herculean efforts to keep these kids playing. They’re being allowed to play because of that.”
Additionally, Raimondo announced that effective this coming Monday, ice rinks and indoor sporting facilities will be closed for a period of one week. The Department of Health cited that one-third of the sports-related positive cases have been linked hockey.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Rhode Island’s health director, noted there have been 96 COVID cases in sports over the past three months. Seventy percent of those cases were associated with four sports: baseball, football, hockey, and soccer. The mentioning of football prompted some eyebrows to be raised since contact football at the high school was shifted to Phase Three of the RIIL’s four-season plan.
“Our requirements were that football only be limited to practice, but there are scenarios outside of the Interscholastic League where it hasn’t been followed,” said Alexander-Scott.
Also of note, the governor stated that she’s hopeful that there will be winter sports.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03