EPHS teams begin fall athletics under RIIL pandemic guidance

Overseers provide general requirements, sport-specific mandates

By Mike Rego
Posted 10/1/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — In the lead up to the start of the 2020 fall high school sports season during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League issued an 18-page overview of best …

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EPHS teams begin fall athletics under RIIL pandemic guidance

Overseers provide general requirements, sport-specific mandates

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — In the lead up to the start of the 2020 fall high school sports season during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League issued an 18-page overview of best practices to member institutions titled, “Return to Education-Based Athletic Competition and Practices.”

The guidance includes general considerations for all parties involved in sports, including referees. Locally, East Providence High School is engaging in three of the four team competitions — soccer, cross country and girls’ tennis — as well as non-competitive sideline cheerleading. The fourth sport sanctioned by the RIIL is field hockey.

Each of the health and safety measures for the sports includes what the RIIL termed “General Considerations,” such as ensuring a distance of at least six feet whenever possible except for the so-called “core activity” (i.e. practicing and playing) that requires a shorter distance.

The considerations continue, “Athletes are required to wear cloth face coverings/masks per RIDOH (Rhode Island Department of Health) guidelines. During play when spacing between players is greater than 10 ft athletes may momentarily take brief face covering relief. The default expectation is that the mask will be on. In addition, coaches, trainers, spectators and all other individuals who are not engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering per RIDOH guidelines.”

Key for the coaches, the RIIL is requiring them to keep accurate records of those athletes and staff who attend each practice and game in case contact tracing is needed upon a positive COVID-19 test. For the players, they are responsible for their own supplies, should wear their own appropriate workout clothing (do not share clothing), and bring their towels and must bring their own water bottle/sports drink.

The RIIL issuance also includes sport-specific instructions. As an example, for cross country there’s a suggestion to widen the course wherever possible to avoid bottlenecks of runners, similarly widening the finishing corrals where results are tabulated and eliminating pre- and post-race handshakes.

For tennis, the RIIL suggests disinfecting balls and using new ones on a regular basis, giving players a can of balls to use individually to serve throughout a match, using their racquets or feet to send balls back to their opponents during play and allowing only the home player to touch the placards used for scoring.

After practicing for a week under the guidelines and preparing for the start of the regular season, EPHS girls’ tennis head coach Cory Duquette found the new mandates acceptable.

“I think the COVID rules are very doable,” he said. “The athletes/students are used to wearing masks and understand the importance of social distancing. Professional tennis has had great success with following rules similar to the tennis rules from the RIIL so I think we can also be successful.”

No other sport being attempted during the fall, with football out of the fold and planned for a special season late next winter, could provide a sterner test of the health and safety guidelines being implemented than soccer.

Among the most noteworthy alterations made to combat the pandemic in the game is the introduction of two mandatory hydration/mask breaks after the 20-minute mark of each half. Also, the rare drop-ball is being suspended. Players on the bench must be socially distanced at six feet apart. In addition, game balls must be wiped down or sprayed with appropriate disinfecting products by the game administrator at the beginning of the game, during timeouts, at halftime and at the end of the game. And like the other sports, the traditional pre- and post-match handshakes are discouraged.

EPHS girls’ soccer head coach Angelo Pizzi said while his team is doing its utmost to follow the procedures under the more controlled practice environment, he said the potential impact of the changes likely can’t be measured until his team gets into the fully competitive atmosphere of a meaningful game.

“We won’t know for sure until we actually play full speed against an opponent,” Pizzi added.

Sideline cheer also faces limitations under the RIIL initiative such as no stunts, lifts or pyramids, no sharing of pom poms and being socially distanced either when on the field or in the stands.
The full “Return to Education-Based Athletic Competition and Practices” document can be viewed at the RIIL website, www.riil.org.

— East Providence Post and eastbayri.com staff photographer Rich Dionne shot the accompanying gallery of photos.

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