Restrictions that seemed foreign when first announced ended up as just a footnote in the fall high school sports season.
Soccer and field hockey players adjusted to playing with masks. Cross country runners got used to smaller race fields. Tennis players became adept at scooping balls up with their rackets. Big games were contested in front of small crowds. Condensed seasons still felt like the real thing. Sportsmanship endured despite no postgame handshakes.
All of it was in service of getting thousands of athletes back to their sports, and there were few bumps in the road. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League reported just 19 teams went into quarantine over the course of the season for a positive test on their team, and 11 more teams for close contact purposes. That was out of 252 teams that competed across six sports. The season culminated with champions crowned in every sport, with none of the heartbreak of the winter and spring cancellations that marked the first half of the year.
That success and lessons learned along the way have set the stage for the league to begin its next effort. Practices for the winter sports season are set to begin Jan. 4, with games penciled in for the middle of the month. All but one of the typical winter sports are classified as low or moderate risk, and can happen under current regulations. Wrestling is high risk and is slated to be held in the spring.
Guidance unveiled by the league on Dec. 18 includes more of the same restrictions – masks must be worn in all sports except swimming, social distancing will be encouraged and spectators will be limited, depending on school regulations. The biggest chance revolves around pending tests. After several teams – including Prout girls soccer – ended up quarantined for the playoffs due to close contact, the league has mandated that athletes with pending test results cannot participate in practices or games. There is an exception for anyone who is required to be tested regularly.
Sport-specific modifications will look similar to what was on display in the fall.
Basketball will switch from halves to quarters to create more built-in timeouts. Timeout huddles are expected to be socially-distanced. Halftime will be five minutes due to locker room limitations. Balls will be wiped with disinfectant at the end of each period. Players should use hand sanitizer when subbing into the game. A maximum of 16 individuals – including coaches – is allowed on the bench, and bench areas must be socially-distanced.
For ice hockey, the bench area will be limited to 17 players. Three reserves may dress for games but must be in an alternate area until needed. If there is not enough space in the facility for teams to leave the bench area between periods, ice will not be cleaned between the second and third periods.
In gymnastics, only athletes competing in the meet can attend, and social distancing is expected when athletes are not competing. Athletes should sanitize hands before competing in each event. The chalk bowls that are typical in some events will not be used; athletes should have their own chalk.
Swimming has the most significant change. Teams will participate in so-called virtual meets, held on the same day if possible, rather than competing head-to-head in person. Times will be recorded, and the score will be determined after the fact.
Indoor track features minor changes, mostly centered around athletes using their own equipment.