Athletes, coaches prepare for February with fall season postponement

Sep 14, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — Screening 360 Old Rochester High School student-athletes would have to wait two hours before practice so that everyone could be screened for coronavirus symptoms, OR Athletic Director Bill Tilden said. Port-a-johns would need to be sanitized during practice, and bussing students to and from games would be difficult.

It’s one of the many reasons why the district’s athletics program is waiting until after the start of school on Sept. 16 to see if it is viable to hold practices or an intramural league for teams in the fall season. 

Though the decision is disappointing for students and coaches, many are understanding because of safety concerns.

On Sept. 4, the district, along with an announcement from the South Coast Conference league it plays in, put out a statement which said the fall season would be moved entirely to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s floating season from Feb. 22 to April 25 to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It would be October before athletes could really start playing,” Tilden said.

With school starting 10 days later than normal, there may even be snow on the ground before the season is in full swing. It would create problems for sports like field hockey where frozen grounds late in the season is already an issue.

For one, players can’t use locker rooms. This means students would have to carry their backpack and sports bag around all day because they can’t use their normal lockers.

Because of the locker room restrictions, Tilden needs to get port-a-johns for players. If too many athletes use them at once, someone would have to disinfect them during practices. 

If teams were to play against the few schools that are still having a season, OR would have to use more than one bus to transport athletes because the state only allows a maximum of 22 riders with covid regulations.

Getting home from practice or games is another issue, as the district scrapped late busses entirely because of the complexities around figuring out assigned seating and who’s on which bus on what day.

“No matter what, it would take a lot more work,” Tilden said.

Before athletics is a forethought, the district needs to see if going to school is going to work. 

If all goes well, Tilden and other coaches would start looking at their options of holding practices after school and creating an intramural league. 

Tilden is “hoping and praying that we can find a way.” 

It worked for the school in the summertime when it held conditioning camps for athletes at Washburn Park in Marion.

“It was great to see the kids and be able to work with all the athletes,” varsity football Coach Bryce Guilbeault said. 

Being able to know his student-athletes were okay and giving him some sort of routine during the three days of the week they met was helpful for him.

As for the season postponement, “In a roundabout way, it’s a little disappointing, but I understand.”

Like Tilden, he is waiting to see how school goes before planning something similar to the summer conditioning sessions he did with his players and other athletes. 

“It’s not like they’re not playing sports for no reason,” Guilbeault said.

Senior guard and defensive tackle Jared Achorn has been training for the upcoming season since last winter. 

While it was a little disappointing for the season to be moved, Achorn said, “I realized it was for the better.”

The team’s goal was (and still is) to be in the Division 6 Championships again, and advance past the round and make it to Gillette Stadium.

Many of the teammates have been playing together since age five, so they have the chemistry to make it that far.

The one key element that would be missing in the fall, Achorn said, is fans. 

Having them at games is really helpful for the team, he said.

But Achorn is taking a different approach to the new season: “There’s not thing like having more time to prepare,” he said. 

Another sport that is being pushed into February is dance.

“With everything going on, I kind of expected it to be like that,” Coach Paige Hiller said. 

She and the girls on the team are like family, so Hiller said “it’s definitely heartbreaking,” especially for the seniors.

To keep that bond alive, she has been holding Zoom meetings with students and with incoming freshmen.

“They get it, but they definitely miss it,” Hiller said.

Some in the South Coast Conference, though, aren’t happy with the decision. 

A petition has been circulating for the conference to reverse their decision. As of Monday at 5:40 p.m., 1,475 people have signed the petition. 

“Their heart is in the right place,” Tilden said in a response. “We just need to focus on getting schools open safely first.” 

While football and dance may be easier to work with in February, other sports like basketball and soccer may not be as successful.

For basketball, “Those guys are nose to nose with each other,” Tilden said. Current soccer regulations won’t allow headers, or any contact between players, so “It just doesn't look like soccer.”

As cross country and track coach, Tilden was surprised by cross country being categorized as a low-risk sport. Runners usually bunch up in packs, and running in a mask would be very difficult, he said. With smaller races, meets would last far longer than normal, too. Keeping athletes warm and ready to race would pose a bigger challenge, he said.

On top of this all, Tilden mentioned more than once that Mother Nature is the deciding factor in all of this. 

So for now, the plan is “just starting slowly and seeing what works,” Tilden said.