Return of the Tigers

After months on hold, high school sports returns in Rhode Island

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/24/20

TIVERTON — Rackets were swinging and legs were kicking Monday afternoon as the fall high school sports season formally got underway in Tiverton.

The day marked the first athletic event the …

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Return of the Tigers

After months on hold, high school sports returns in Rhode Island

Posted

TIVERTON — Rackets were swinging and legs were kicking Monday afternoon as the fall high school sports season formally got underway in Tiverton.

The day marked the first athletic event the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 spring season across the state, executive director Mike Lunney said. But after months of uncertainty, the Principals’ Committee on Athletics – RIIL’s governing body – voted on 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, girls’ tennis and sideline cheer were all approved to begin practices Sept. 21, while football and volleyball were deemed 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, Mr. Lunney said that figuring out how to play them safely was an entirely different matter.

“It’s just not been easy at any stretch or turn,” he said.

But in working with multiple state departments, superintendents and athletic directors, RIIL developed general and sport-specific guidance that 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 are “minimal.”

Much of their guidance, he said, was geared toward helping each athletic department implement safety measures within its own district, “whether on or off the field.” Each day, he said, each department will have to address four things – mask-wearing, social distancing, contact tracing and sanitizing – in order to best give athletes a chance to safely complete their fall seasons.

“Health and safety are always important and always observed by our schools, but obviously these go well above and beyond what they’re used to,” Mr. Lunney said.

By the time Monday’s first practice rolled around, however, Tiverton Athletic Director Bob Murray said he felt confident that the department had “covered all angles” to properly address these added concerns.

Practice times were staggered after school – tennis beginning the earliest, at 2:30 pm; cross country the latest at 4:30 pm – with all of the workouts held at different locations and lasting 90 minutes.

Masks were a must, and athletes will be screened and have their temperatures checked prior to starting any physical activity. Although locker rooms may be closed, Mr. Murray said that bathrooms will be available for athletes (two at a time) to change in, and equipment can be dropped off in a designated room that’s locked throughout the school day.

For students unable to return home in between the academic day and sports practice, Mr. Murray said that the school will offer a supervised and socially-distanced study hall where they can get homework done or relax.

“We’re giving every opportunity for kids to be able to stay, be spaced safely, supervised and then go off to practice,” he said.

They also want parents to have the ability to watch their kids play, Mr. Murray added. Once competitions resume next Saturday, Oct. 3, spectators – two per athlete – will be permitted in Tiverton, so long as he is notified who those fans will be beforehand. Masks must be worn at all times, and each two-person party must remain socially-distanced from other families.

As the fall season progresses, both Mr. Murray and Mr. Lunney know that the situation is fluid and adjustments will be made in order to maintain the safety of everyone involved.

“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.

Despite the many physical and social-emotional challenges that playing soccer during a pandemic brings – wearing a mask, the inability to hug her goalkeeper – Chana Urrego, a senior defender for the Tiverton Tigers girls’ soccer team, said she is “thankful” to be back with her teammates and resuming some semblance of normalcy.

“It’s a point of stability; it’s a reassuring place,” she said. “I think for all of us, it’s been a really good asset to have each other.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.