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RIIL delays start of most fall high school sports

Only cross country, tennis meet current pandemic related guidelines


PROVIDENCE — Cross country and tennis, at the moment, are the only two sports likely to begin nearly on time this fall, according to a 16-page outline provided to high school administrators by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League earlier this week.

The sports are those that meet the state’s current COVID-19 pandemic health and safety guidelines. As of now, cross country and girls’ tennis teams along with cheerleaders can begin sanctioned activities on September 14. That date, however, is already a delay in the planned beginning of 2020-21 fall sports preparations, which was originally set for Monday, Aug. 17.

The RIIL guidance (see attachment) puts featured fall team sports like football and soccer as well as volleyball and field hockey in limbo, leaving those coaches and athletes hopeful their games can begin if circumstances surrounding the pandemic sufficiently improve.

In its outline, officials for the governing body wrote, “The RIIL emphasizes that this plan is fluid and in a perpetual state of evaluation. Health metrics and data from the RI Department of Health will continue to be closely monitored, as well as feedback from member schools. Guidance and restrictions can change at any time. The RIIL will continue to consult with our stakeholders and will adjust offerings as appropriate should the health metrics direct that action. In the event of a positive COVID-19 case, member schools are mandated to follow all directives from RIDOH. The RIIL will continue to work with its member schools to define the process as more information becomes available.”

If the RIIL plan is followed as is, the fall season would be condensed into a six-week regular season schedule starting on Friday, Oct. 2, then a two-week run of playoffs.

The outline recommends one game per week in each sport with flexibility for schools to add additional games at their discretion and utilization of weekends for game play (Friday night, Saturday and Sunday). Weekdays would be set aside for practice and skill development to maximize participation opportunities.

The RIIL similarly recommends limiting spectators to numbers approved by the state for gatherings, while noting each school district can further restrict the amount of fans it allows to attend contests.

Also, in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the RIIL is mandating its member schools follow all directives from the Rhode Island Department of Health and local schools and districts.

(Updated, 11:55 a.m., Aug. 5) RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney, a Portsmouth resident, issued a statement regarding an initial report in the Providence Journal, in part reading:

"Although there is still uncertainty about what school will look like this fall and what Phase RI will be in, this update is meant to provide a framework regarding how high school sport decisions will be made moving forward...

"The RIIL will not make any final decisions on what fall sports will be offered until after August 17th when schools will know what education models they will be using across the state."

The RIIL has scheduled a press conference later Wednesday to address the situation.

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Jim McGaw

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.