Vermont high school sports allowed to begin practices

  • Holly Putnam warms up with her Windsor basketball teammates during a practice scheduled in the absence of their postponed Division III semifinal with Thetford, in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, March 12, 2020. The game was later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson—Valley News - James M. Patterson

  • Woodstock's Justice Bassette speeds away from the start line for the boys 5K freestyle during the high school Nordic skiing state championships at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho, Vt., on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2020. (Burlington Free Press - Austin Danforth) AUSTIN DANFORTH/FREE PRESS—

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2020 1:06:34 PM
Modified: 12/22/2020 9:18:01 PM

MONTPELIER — A return to play is in sight for Vermont high school sports.

In a Tuesday morning news conference, Gov. Phil Scott announced that school-based sports and youth recreation can begin a phased restart Saturday. Due to COVID-19, practices must be no-contact skill and strength focused, and athletes must wear a mask and be physically distanced at all times. With school entering winter break, some teams might wait to start until January.

On Nov. 25, Scott decided to postpone all high school sports indefinitely. The original plan rolled out by the state and the Vermont Principals Association had proposed practices for winter sports to start on Nov. 30, with competition beginning Jan. 11.

“We found out this morning, shortly before the governor’s press conference,” VPA associate executive director Bob Johnson said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’re excited. It still does not deal with the issue of games because that will come at a later time, but at least it allows for things to start. It’s what many people wanted, and I think they’ve been looking forward to this.

“We’re still planning for games and competition. I think a lot of it has to do with what happens between Christmas and New Year’s in terms of the COVID rates. That was something the governor was really focusing on.”

The timeline for full-contact practices and a return to competition is unknown, but coaches are excited to finally interact with their teams.

“I think this year, every practice we have is going to be a victory,” said Thetford Academy girls basketball coach Eric Ward, who organized a small rally at the state capitol Tuesday morning to show that students want to play winter sports. “Whatever happens, just being on the court every day we can is going to be a small victory.”

TA announced earlier in the month that all winter sports would not commence until Jan. 25. Ward is hopeful that with a date from the state, the academy will lift the pause and let kids at least begin conditioning.

“Our team hasn’t been together since March 12; that was our last practice,” Ward said of his squad, which was named a co-champion last season with three other schools when the VPA D-III tournament was canceled at the semifinal stage. “Now we get the go-ahead to finally start some skill work. It’s been too long for them.”

When Scott initially paused sports in the Green Mountain State, COVID-19 cases had risen for two consecutive weeks and the state was bracing for a bigger uptick with Thanksgiving days away. Now new cases have declined after record highs in early December.

Also mentioned in Tuesday morning’s announcement was a return to prior guidance on outdoor activities, such as skiing, hiking and sledding, now allowed between multiple households with social distancing and masks required.

“Let’s go,” said Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno, who said he’s hoping to have practices begin Monday. “I feel like we can put a plan together to keep (student-athletes) as safe as possible, and I think the kids being in a structured, team-based environment is exactly what they need. I’m happy we can get going with that.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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