Frontier, Pioneer move forward with winter sports

Published: 12/10/2020 9:07:55 PM
Modified: 12/10/2020 9:07:45 PM

The winter sports debate took its show on the road to South Deerfield and Northfield Thursday night, as Frontier Regional School and Pioneer Valley Regional School took their turns discussing the status of high school sports for the upcoming season virtually.

Frontier

A special meeting of the Frontier School Committee in conjunction with the Town of Deerfield Selectboard and Board of Health saw the committee pass its motion regarding winter sports by a 5-3 margin Thursday night.

Frontier Athletic Director Carl Cyr told the committee that the PVIAC informed ADs that the start of the winter sports season will be pushed back a week from Jan. 4 to Jan. 11.

The motion Thursday night was amended to accept the Frontier proposal for winter sports beginning Jan. 11, subject to review at the four-town board of health meeting scheduled for Dec. 29.

There was considerable discussion during the meeting surrounding Frontier’s decision to close in-person learning on Thursday and go fully remote beginning Friday through Jan. 4. Sunderland Board of Health Chair Caitlyn Rock questioned the decision to even discuss athletics with the move made by the district earlier on Thursday.

“If school boards feel it’s not safe for kids and staff to be educated together, I don’t understand how it’s safe to play basketball or how it’s safe to play hockey,” Rock offered. “I just find this to be mind-blowing. I do feel sports are important for the social, emotional well-being of our children, but this needs very, very careful consideration.”

Committee member Damien Fosnot agreed that the timing of Thursday’s meeting was ironic considering Frontier halted in-person learning the same day.

“I think the optics probably do look bad with school being closed but kids playing sports are a choice,” he said. “I don’t think that making a decision right now with sports is necessarily any indication that (sports are) going to happen. It’s only planning for it. If that helps parents and students, with the realization that this might fall through come Jan. 4 or 11… at least we can plan for it. It might entice kids to have that hope.”

Cyr told the committee that basketball, alpine skiing and hockey were on the docket for the school’s winter plans. Girls hockey is part of the Pope Francis cooperative hockey program, while boys hockey plays with Greenfield’s cooperative team that includes most of the high schools in Franklin County. Last year, Frontier had 12 players on the Greenfield hockey team while Cyr said this year, one player was signed up for the girls hockey program with Pope Francis.

The committee met for two full hours Thursday night, and while the motion did pass for the school to move forward with winter sports competitions, committee member Lyn Roberts questioned whether the group was just passing the baton to the local boards of health to make the ultimate call.

“So do you want us to vote so that we look good, then hope the board of health will cancel it all so they look bad and we don’t,” Roberts queried Fosnot about the motion.

“It’s not to make us look good,” Fosnot replied. “It’s to put a vote in place with the hope that if the (COVID-19) numbers do go down, and the board of health says we can go back to school Jan. 4, that we can also discuss if sports are safe to start. If not, just because we vote tonight for (Cyr) to be able to do planning or whatever the process is to proceed with sports in the hope they might get going, that doesn’t mean that decision can’t be changed.”

Deerfield Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness said she hoped people throughout the district, including those interested in participating in winter athletics, will be especially vigilant over the next month.

“I’m really hoping people will take a step back and do everything they can do so we can open the schools and vote on sports on the 29th,” Shores Ness said.

Pioneer

The Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee discussed the feasibility of winter sports as well Thursday night, ultimately voting to move forward with athletics via a 10-1 decision, with one member abstaining.

The critical piece to the vote was that it does not guarantee games against other schools will happen, simply that the school will move forward with skills and drills, reevaluating whether to play games when the season draws closer.

The season is not set to begin in Franklin County until Jan. 11.

“Your approval does not mean competition,” Pioneer Athletic Director Ernest Abramian told the committee. “Your approval means the possibility of competition can happen.”

Boys and girls basketball will move forward with skills and drills work. Panther boys basketball coach Scott Thayer addressed the committee, reiterating that a ‘yes’ vote was to keep the door open to being able to play games.

“A ‘yes’ vote will give kids an opportunity to have a season,” Thayer said. “It does not mean all systems go. It is an opportunity for a season. We don’t know what the COVID situation will be a month from now, but a no vote kills us in the water. Just because we say yes does not mean we’ll have a full -fledged season. It just means we have an opportunity to move forward.”

Senior basketball player Liam Bradley-Curtis made his plea to the committee in hopes of being able to have a season.

“For all the hard work I’ve put in my life, from kindergarten to right now, for there to possibly not be an opportunity to play is really heartbreaking,” Bradley-Curtis said. “My teammates and I worked hard for this. I know other states have played sports and if I’m watching videos of kids in other states playing, it’s hard for me to see that and I know they’re doing it in a much more irresponsible way than we are. It’s really unfair watching kids my age in other states playing. Why should they have an opportunity to play without safety protocols in place and we can’t play with protocols in place.”

Committee members asked questions about how a season would happen and the guidelines set forth by the MIAA, which were answered by Abramian and nurses in the district.

One of the main concerns for some members was whether having sports would affect the district’s hybrid learning model, with member Nathan Swartz stating that the top priority for the district is getting kids back in school, and potential positive tests from having a season would convolute this. David Young was also not in favor, saying how college sports have struggled with keeping the virus contained despite having many more resources and more testing.

Carla Simpson countered that if a player were to test positive, it would not immediately result in the school being shut down, as contract tracing would go into place to identify who may have been in contact with the person that tested positive.

Another sticking point to the vote was mental health, as members wanted to leave open the possibility of having a season.

“It’s critically important for our students to have a season,” Pioneer girls basketball coach Mike Churchill said. “The limited social interaction can take a toll on them. This group of students has had so many experiences taken away from them and they all leave a small hole in their lives. You all have an opportunity to give them one thing back.”


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