With less than an hour of debate, fall sports and other extracurricular activities got the green light from the Monadnock Regional School Board Thursday night.
In addition to wrestling with whether to reopen their campuses, schools nationwide have been debating whether to permit these activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a meeting of the Monadnock school board Thursday — which was held via the videoconferencing platform Zoom — member Eric Stanley of Swanzey made a motion that sports and other extracurricular activities start immediately.
He argued student-athletes need to be given a proper preseason, which typically starts in August, to not only re-acclimate to their sports, but to adjust to new safety protocols.
The N.H. Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA), which oversees high school sports statewide, announced last week the first dates the organization deemed safe for student athletes to play competitive games, based on low, moderate and high-risk categories.
Minimal-contact sports — bass fishing and golf — are permitted to compete starting Sept. 10. But football and cheerleading teams cannot challenge other schools until Sept. 25.
Soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country are considered moderate-risk, and teams are allowed to compete after Sept. 18.
All fall sports are able to begin practice for the regular season Sept. 8, based on this guidance. Pre-season conditioning can begin ahead of this, NHIAA says, assuming it is needed.
Monadnock administrators will determine a feasible pre-season start date, according to Stanley’s motion, but he said ideally it would be sometime next week.
“Whatever those coaches and administrators feel is appropriate is what I feel is appropriate,” he said. “If the parents don’t feel it’s safe, just like if the parents don’t feel it’s safe for the kids to go back to the school ... they have that option.”
But other board members felt allowing sports and other extracurricular activities is too much of a risk.
“I am watching how many colleges are canceling their seasons and how many professional sports are mitigating risk with rapid testing ... and they have had issues,” member Cheryl McDaniel-Thomas, of Swanzey, said.
Others argued assuring the schools’ reopening plans run smoothly should be the top priority.
The Monadnock board voted last week to adopt a hybrid mode to begin the school year, combining in-person and remote learning. Students in the district —which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — will start the school year on Sept. 14.
“Whatever we are doing should align with our academics,” said member Elizabeth Tatro, of Swanzey. “We shouldn’t be doing more with sports than we are doing with academics.”
Ultimately, Stanley’s motion passed, under Monadnock’s weighted vote system, by a vote of 6.476 to 4.653, with Stanley; Chairman Scott Peters of Troy; Vice Chair Lisa Steadman of Troy; Brian Bohannon of Swanzey; Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam; and Daniel LeClair of Swanzey voting for it.
McDaniel-Thomas; Tatro; Michelle Connor of Richmond; Nicholas Mosher of Roxbury; and Colleen Toomey of Swanzey voted against it.
Board member Winston Wright, of Fitzwilliam, abstained and Karen Wheeler, of Gilsum, was absent.
Once practices for different sports begin, the Monadnock motion says they can be done as a full team with proper social distancing and cleaning tactics.
The NHIAA guidance also allows teams to have an “open tournament,” meaning schools can create an area-based competition with local districts, rather than traveling farther away.
“We are talking about playing schools that are within 50 or 60 miles of us,” Stanley said. “If we don’t make an effort to have sports, we will truly destroy sports for our community ... How many of these kids won’t graduate if they don’t have sports?”
About 220 Monadnock students in grades 7 through 12 play sports each year on average, with the fall season usually drawing in the most participants, Superintendent Lisa Witte said Thursday in response to an email from The Sentinel.
By Sept. 1, the board’s motion directs the administration to seek out local school districts to compete against.
In addition, the NHIAA is requiring administrators and coaches to make students stay home when showing signs of illness. Districts will also need a safety officer to make sure these protocols are upheld during practices and games.
But even with these protocols in place, NHIAA’s guidance notes that fall sports won’t be risk-free.
“Due to [the] high probability of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while in-season,” the guidance says.