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At Portsmouth High: Return of the Patriots

After months on hold, high school sports return in limited fashion

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/24/20

PORTSMOUTH — The sun is shining brightly Monday afternoon, as dozens of student athletes from Portsmouth High School start making their way over to practice after school. 

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At Portsmouth High: Return of the Patriots

After months on hold, high school sports return in limited fashion

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The sun is shining brightly Monday afternoon, as dozens of student athletes from Portsmouth High School start making their way over to practice after school. 

With masks up, those running cross-country head over to the track; girls playing tennis take to the courts. It is the first time in six months that the school has been able to hold any form of organized sports on campus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Portsmouth Athletic Director Stephen Trezvant, it was a “heartwarming” sight to see. 

“I would have to say yesterday was a good day for us,” he said Tuesday. 

Until recently, Mr. Trezvant was not entirely sure it was going to happen. While he was fairly certain cross-country and tennis would be safe enough to play this fall, others sports — soccer, football, and volleyball — still seemed to be up in the air. 

But after months of uncertainty, the Principals’ Committee on Athletics — the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s (RIIL) governing body — voted Sept. 4 to move forward with a select few fall sports, keeping in line with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s guidance. 

Girls’ and boys’ soccer, girls’ and boys’ cross-country, field hockey (not offered at PHS), girls’ tennis and sideline cheer were all approved to begin practices Sept. 21, while football and volleyball were deemed too high-risk and pushed back to a later start date, yet to be determined. 

While those five sports may have been given the all-clear, RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney said figuring out how to play them safely was an entirely different matter. 

“It’s just not been easy at any stretch or turn,” said Mr. Lunney, of Portsmouth.

But in working with multiple state departments, superintendents and athletic directors, RIIL developed general and sport-specific guidance athletes, coaches and officials can follow, all of which is posted to their website. 

Some modifications to certain sports had to be made: no more throw-ins and drop-balls in soccer, or lifts and pyramid formations in cheer — but on the whole, Mr. Lunney said these changes were “minimal.” Much of their guidance, he said, was geared toward helping each athletic department implement safety measures within their own district, “whether on or off the field.”

Each day, he said, each department would have to address four things — mask-wearing, social distancing, contact tracing and sanitization — in order to best give athletes a chance to safely finish their fall seasons. 

“There’s a lot on the line, and everyone has to take responsibility and work together to make this a successful year,” Mr. Lunney said. 

That requires staying on top of constant updates and educating students and staff about these new protocols, Mr. Trezvant said. Just on Tuesday alone, he said new guidance was issued about mask-wearing, and Portsmouth’s athletic trainer was at the track going over how to safely conduct warmups. 

Locker rooms are closed for the time being, with students encouraged to wear their practice clothes under their normal school-day attire. While most practices begin by 3 p.m., Superintendent Tom Kenworthy noted that the old gym will be made available as a supervised waiting area until 5 p.m. 

While Portsmouth officials were able to swiftly implement these new measures, Mr. Trezvant said there’s more they still need to figure out: Will spectators be permitted at home games, or can they figure out how to livestream competitions for those at home?

“Typically, we’d normally have months to prepare for a fall season,” he said. “Having three weeks was a logistical challenge for us, certainly.”

Though that may be the case, Mr. Trezvant added it’s worth it to get his Portsmouth Patriots back outside and playing again, offering them that sense of normalcy. 

“The campus came alive again,” he said.

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