As Bedford High School coaches and student-athletes prepare for the abbreviated spring interscholastic season, they are discovering that the rules of the contests are almost unchanged from the last time they competed two years ago.
Almost all of the adjustments to the continuing threat of Covid-19 are in the protocols and routines.
Practice sessions officially begin next Monday, with the first games scheduled for May 6. The season continues through June 15, culminating like the previous three seasons with a Dual County League divisional tournament. That will be followed by the first state tourney in more than a year.
Many precautions have been consistently required by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association throughout the 2020-21 sports year: hand-sanitizing, physical distancing, mask-wearing. Players must bring their own equipment. Team members can’t huddle or even casually touch each other. Bench areas are expanded along and behind the sidelines to endure safe space.
The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which sets policies on recreational activities, has relaxed some earlier restrictions. Locker rooms will be permitted to accommodate up to 50 percent of capacity, assuming distancing and face covering.
And state policy says spectators are allowed in designated areas, as long as there are six feet of separation. DCL athletic directors will establish their own policy on fans, which could be stricter, at a meeting planned for next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the games are almost entirely the same. Fall and winter sports incorporated some rules changes that tried to keep athletes from close contact. Spring sports are primarily concerned with surface and conversational transmission.
For example, baseball and softball players are prohibited from chewing gum or sunflower seeds or licking their fingers. Meetings on the baseball mound “should be limited to a coach, a catcher, and a pitcher. If fielders are needed, they must maintain six feet distancing.”
“The host school is required to set up designated areas for students from each team to take mask breaks when coming off the field,” according to the baseball protocols.
Softball rules stipulate that “the plate umpire should work to allow safe distance from the catcher while maintaining positioning to officiate the contest.”
Boys’ lacrosse includes a field modification: “The sideline players’ and coaches’ box shall be extended to the end line to ensure proper social distancing.” The game will be 12 minutes per quarter, with two minutes between periods and a five-minute halftime. Girls’ lacrosse games will be 12 minutes, 30 seconds per quarter, two minutes between periods, and a halftime negotiable up to five minutes.
“In place of the handshake line, teams can lineup extending from their respective side of the substitution box facing the opposing team’s line and raise sticks in a salute of sportsmanship,” the MIAA wrote.
The rules under girls’ lacrosse state, “Players should refrain from picking up another player by hand if a player has fallen to the ground unless deemed necessary to help a player off the field due to injury.”
Also, if a player “comes within six feet of an official to complain/argue, a red card will be issued.”
There is lots of new organizing and sanitizing for track and field meets (only dual meets are permitted).
“A schedule of events must be created for each meet, providing accurate times for each event,” the association requires. “Participants must consider arriving in waves when applicable based upon the meet size and scheduled event time. Different time slots must be provided to each team for warmups. Designated warm-up times must be considered for field events with officials present.”
Also, the rules call for sanitizing starting blocks before and after each heat, as well as disinfecting hurdles and relay batons before each race.
The tennis protocols are heavy on surface sanitation. “Use different numbered tennis balls on adjacent courts. Mark the court number on all assigned tennis balls. Make sure players know what tennis ball number they are using. If a tennis ball from one court goes onto an adjacent court, it should be kicked back with a foot or a racquet. The tennis ball from another court should not be touched by hand.”
Also, “Practice equipment (racquets, towels, target cones, ball tubes, baskets, ball machines, etc…) should be disinfected frequently. Headbands, hats, towels, or wristbands should be used to avoid touching your face during play. “The home coach must clean the scorecards with sanitizing wipes after the match.”
Players should tap racquets in place of the traditional handshake, the association proclaimed.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763