COVID still playing role in Vermont HS sports

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Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2021 9:36:26 PM
Modified: 8/19/2021 9:36:33 PM

MONTPELIER — COVID-19 will continue to impact high school sports in Vermont entering the 2021-22 school year.

While high school football is back to 11-on-11 and there is currently no mask mandate, masks will still be recommended for indoor activities. Volleyball is the only indoor fall sport, but other sports may hold indoor practices when inclement weather occurs.

At the Vermont Principals Association’s annual media day on Thursday, associate executive director Bob Johnson said that recommendation came in a memo from Vermont Secretary of Education Daniel French in early August. It lasts through the first 10 days of school, at which point schools can unmask if they can prove they’ve hit an 80%vaccination rate.

But Johnson and VPA executive director Jay Nichols emphasized that those are merely recommendations and that messy situations could arise.

“Anything we do is going to be advisory. Do we have the legal authority to say everybody needs to wear a mask, say, for volleyball? We probably don’t. If we were challenged, we’d probably lose,” Nichols said. “So the question’s going to be what happens if you get one school that says they’re wearing masks and one school says not? We’re probably going to be in the position — most likely, it’s a speculation — that we’re going to have to say, ‘You can do what you want to do, as long as you follow whatever your local school board says.’ ”

Johnson and Nichols added that they’re continuing to seek further guidance from French and that the situation is constantly evolving.

New site for rankings, schedules, scores: The VPA is beginning to use Scorebook Live for its rankings and schedules, which were previously housed on the VPA website. There will now be a link on the VPA site redirecting users to Scorebook Live, whose relationship with the VPA began last year as a sponsor.

Schools will be required to enter scores on the site. Each school will have its own page housing its schedule and scores, and they can also input their rosters, statistics and more. Scorebook Live is set up with the VPA’s index-point system, and the VPA will use SB Live to determine its tournament pairings.

“Scorebook Live is a national platform that actually came out of California and has a really strong platform component to it for sports information,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to work well. We’ll have a few bumps.”

Johnson said he has weekly meetings with SB Live — and will continue to do so throughout the school year — to discuss any issues that arise. Those meetings, he continued, will allow him to ensure all schools are entering scores properly. SB Live would tell him if a school has fallen significantly behind on reporting scores, and Johnson would then check in with the schools to see what happened.

He said that once everyone — both schools and families — gets used to SB Live, it will be easier and more comprehensive for both sides.

Realignments coming: The VPA will begin working on division realignments for all sports this fall. Schools have to submit their student counts by Oct. 1, which is when the realignment process will start.

Johnson and Nichols indicated there could be contraction coming as enrollments continue to shrink. Nichols said the state has around 80,000 students now, from pre-K through grade 12, down from around 125,000 in 1997. He anticipates the state will be around 70,000 by the end of the decade, citing the downward trend and birth rates.

With fewer students and more co-op teams and member-to-member agreements, there are fewer teams now than Vermont had in the last two decades. It could result in cutting the lowest division in some sports.

“You’ve got some schools that are very small. The flip side to that is it’s tough not to have four divisions because of the disparity in numbers,” Johnson said. “Trying to figure out the perfect alignment system when you’ve got schools that have as few as 35-40 (students) as compared to schools that have 1,200, that’s not an easy task.”

Johnson used boys lacrosse as an example, as last spring’s Division III tournament saw just six teams participate. He said he has significant concerns about that, but he also knows some of the schools would be overmatched in skill and ability if forced to compete against D-II schools.

The VPA will address basketball realignment first. The rest of the winter sports will come next, followed by spring sports and then fall sports for 2022.

Hartford reaches NFHS Honor Roll status: This summer, Hartford High became the first Vermont school to earn Level 1 status in the National Federation of State High School Association’s School Honor Roll program.

The achievement required Hartford coaches to complete online education courses through the NFHS on coaching fundamentals, abuse prevention, concussions and cardiac arrest.

At the VPA event, Johnson commended Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno for his work getting the Hurricanes to that level. Johnson added that any Vermont school could apply for this.

“Hartford High School is working hard to make sure the athletic programs are a true extension of the classroom,” Moreno said in an NFHS release from July 30. “Our coaching staff has worked very hard this past year to complete all Level 1 trainings, and we will now get started on Level 2 and Level 3 coursework.”

Hartford received a banner to hang in its gymnasium signifying its Level 1 status.

Seth Tow can be contacted at

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