After about an hour and a half of discussion Tuesday night, the Keene Board of Education decided, by a vote of 5-2, to suspend winter sports competition until the school district returns from remote learning.
Tryouts and practices are scheduled to begin Monday, Dec. 14, and still have the green light.
Inga Hansen, Jaclyn Headings, John Houston, Rebecca Lancaster and Peter Starkey all voted in favor of suspending competition until the district reopens.
George Downing and Kris Roberts both voted against suspending competition.
SAU 29 schools transitioned to fully remote learning on Nov. 30 and plan to continue remote learning until at least Jan. 4.
“I understand the school board is concerned about safety,” said Keene athletic director Mike Atkins after the meeting. “We still feel like we have a solid and safe plan and can do things very, very safely, but we’ll move forward. We’re going to start our tryouts on Monday and we’ll get our team set and then go from there.”
A main concern from certain members of the board was the idea of bringing student athletes on campus while classes are being held remotely.
Another concern was the travel to compete against other schools across the state. According to Atkins, even with board approval, under NHIAA procedure Keene High can only compete against schools on the western side of the state. This would allow for competition against other Division 1 schools, unlike in the fall, while still restricting travel.
Unless another motion is passed by the board, all travel restrictions that were in place during the fall sports season will continue to be in effect in the winter. Under those restrictions, Keene would currently not be allowed to travel anywhere in the state to compete.
Before the discussion and vote, members of the Keene High Student Athlete Leadership Council made a presentation to the board advocating for the continuation of winter sports.
Seniors Amelia Opsahl (cross country) and Laurel Clace (softball) as well as junior Jonathan Hills (cross country) made their case for the importance of athletics.
There was also a consenting opinion that came from senior Adelyne Hayward, a captain on the girls basketball team, who argued that holding a winter sports season is not worth the risk.
“There are student athletes who are willing to put their community’s health above [athletics],” Hayward said in the public input portion of the meeting. “I think it’s important to realize you are a student before an athlete, so if we can’t be in school, why should we be able to play?”
With no guarantee of a competitive season in any sport, Atkins said there is “concern” about the athletic schedule moving forward. He said most Keene High teams already have their schedules “roughed out,” so now he has to go back to the schools the Blackbirds are scheduled to compete against and inform them of the board’s decision.
“We’ll continue to round out the schedules and we’ll go from there,” Atkins said.
According to Atkins, 18 of the 22 Division 1 school across the state have decided to proceed with winter sports competition. The other four have not yet made a decision, making Keene the first Division 1 school to suspend its competitive season.
According to superintendent Robb Malay, there were no COVID cases that were traced back to fall sports across the district.