PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Only outdoor school sports will be able to play this fall, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Friday.
However, that won’t include football, at least to start.
Raimondo said approved sports can begin workouts and practices on September 21, then competitions will be held from early October through Thanksgiving.
In August, the R.I. Interscholastic League (RIIL) said competitions may begin on October 2, with a six-week regular season and two-week postseason.
“Youth sports are vital,” Raimondo said. “There will be school sports in the state of Rhode Island this fall. Like everything else in our lives, it is going to be different and not the way we might want it or the way it was last year, but we will get to play.”
Girls tennis and boys and girls cross country will be able to compete with minimal changes, according to the governor, while boys and girls soccer, sideline cheer, and field hockey will compete with modifications.
Raimondo said the RIIL and R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will decide on those modifications.
According to DEM Director Janet Coit, they’ll include wearing masks if the sport involves close contact. She said a goalie would be able to pull their mask down when all the action is on the other side of the field and there’s enough distance.
Some of the new regulations, Raimondo said, will also include disinfecting the ball, penalties for intentional direct contact, electronic whistles for referees, and restrictions on throw-ins.
At a press conference on Friday, RIIL Executive Director Michael Lunney said that every sport will have modifications, for example cross country will have staggered starting times. He said he is unsure if they will have league games that count towards standings.
“The focus will be on maximizing participation opportunities,” Lunney said.
Football and volleyball will not be allowed at first, according to the governor, but they may have a second fall season in the spring, which is a floating season that can be pushed to a later date.
“What we are hoping, expecting and planning for is a season in the spring,” Raimondo said. “Hoping by then things will be better and it will be safer.”
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The RIIL said they will adopt a four-season model, with sports unable to play in the fall potentially playing between the winter and spring seasons.
Volleyball is unable to play because it is indoors and all of the players must touch the same ball, Raimondo said, while football cannot play because it requires close contact through blocking and tackling.
While the decision wasn’t surprising, Keith Croft, the head coach of Bishop Hendricken High School’s football team, said it’s still a difficult one to swallow.
“There’s players, there’s coaches that are struggling right now,” he said. “I think you’ve got to absorb the decision that was made.”
Croft said football goes beyond the scoreboard, and canceling the season will have unintended consequences.
“It provides structure, it provides safety, it provides discipline,” Croft said.
Geoff Marcone, the head coach of LaSalle Academy’s football team, agreed with Croft, telling 12 News: “This will definitely affect the recruiting process for some of these student-athletes…especially if the NCAA grants college players an extra year because of the pandemic.”
If people are taking shortcuts and there are outbreaks, she said they will reconsider the guidelines and pull back on the sports that are allowed to play.
“We are telling you what we think is required to keep our kids safe,” Raimondo said. “We are trusting principals, coaches, athletic directors, parents to reinforce these safety guidelines.”
Raimondo emphasized that these guidelines entitle all Rhode Island students to play the approved sports, including those at schools beginning with full distance learning.
“We think it is safe to play sports and especially if you’re a kid that’s going to be stuck in your room all day on a computer, all the more reason that you should get outside,” she said.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said players from opposing teams will not be considered close contacts. Raimondo described close contacts as anyone you are with closer than six feet, without wearing a mask, for more than 15 minutes, at her Wednesday briefing.
The RIIL recommended schools have games on the weekends because it may help with transportation issues, Michael Lunney said, although they do not dictate when games occur.
“There’s not going to be any restriction on two schools that mutually agree to play during the week, if they can make that happen then we will certainly support that,” he said.
As far as fans watching the games, Lunney said schools will have to follow the Department of Health’s guidelines. Right now that is 66% of capacity or a 250 person maximum.
Janet Coit, during Friday’s briefing, said athletes will be restricted to two spectators at games.
“The rules are no more than two people per athlete and any household should be masked and six feet apart,” she said.
After Raimondo announced Monday that all Rhode Island school districts except for Providence and Central Falls have met the requirements for a full in-person return, RIIL released a statement because they said they were receiving a lot of questions.
The statement said, “please know that the RIIL is still committed to offering our member schools as many traditional fall sports as possible within the governor’s guidelines for school sports.”
On Thursday, she walked through what a typical school day may look like for students.
The governor said next week, she will go back to holding weekly briefings at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
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