State officials unveiled sweeping changes Tuesday to how Vermont’s high school winter sports will proceed during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The short version: More masks, no fans and games on hold until the new year.
And, as hinted at in recent weeks, the unique challenges posed by wrestling and indoor track mean neither sport will be offered this winter, according Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.
Vermont’s school-based winter sports still eligible for competition include basketball, ice hockey, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, bowling, gymnastics, dance and cheerleading, though the latter is now prohibited from performing vocal routines this winter.
But the most notable change going forward is the decision to prohibit fans from attending indoor sporting events — a move in line with the recent changes to guidance for recreation and college sports.
“We recognize this will come as a disappointment to parents and fans of local teams, but minimizing the number of people present is essential to appropriately manage the risk associated with indoor sports events,” Moore said.
Officials attempted to balance health risks posed by COVID-19 against the mental and physical benefits of sports opportunities for young people, Moore said. But the priority during the process was supporting continued in-person instruction in schools.
“And, as we continue to see clear evidence of just how fragile this can be with growing case counts and positivity rates, both regionally and also here in Vermont, we are taking necessary precautions,” Moore said.
Practices for school-based sports can begin as early as Nov. 30, per the new guidance. Competition between schools must wait until at least Jan. 11.
Providing six weeks between the start of practices and games is intentional, Moore said during a news briefing, allowing officials further time to study emerging trends and make adjustments as needed.
“Should data emerge that indicates COVID-19 transmission as a result of sports-related activities, this could result in further delaying or suspending games, practices, meets and competitions,” she said.
The masking mandate implemented for the fall season — players and coaches are required to wear a facial covering at all times, particularly when physical distancing is not possible — has been extended to referees and officials for indoor events.
The revamped guidance also strongly discourages in-person, team-based social gatherings this winter, according to Moore.
This story will be updated.
Liz Murray contributed to this story.
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