MANCHESTER, NH – Football will be coming back to Manchester’s public schools this fall, even if it looks a little different.
In a series of votes, football and spirit were approved at Manchester Memorial and Manchester Central High Schools and the sports of field hockey, cross country, volleyball, soccer, football and spirit will be allowed at Manchester West High School and cross country, field hockey, volleyball and soccer will be allowed at middle schools in the city.
The first vote focused on 12 separate recommendations to make games safe for athletes, highlighted with the hiring of three “Athletic COVID Managers.” These managers, local college students who will be paid $12 to $15 an hour, would make sure all players and spectators follow proper social distancing and follow other pandemic safety guidelines.
Locker rooms would not be open to players, with players expected to arrive at games ready to play and transported to road games by parents or their own vehicles.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig voiced frustration with the proposal of paying for the managers, given funding cuts that have been made to other portions of the school district’s athletic programs in recent months. However, Manchester School District Athletic Director Christine Telge said that savings from transportation costs and the cancelled spring season would allow the hiring of the managers.
Telge estimated that the three managers would cost $2,000 over the fall season, an amount that members of the board seemed to feel was fair, with Committeeman Dan Bergeron (Ward 6) believing Telge should be trusted with the decision.
“I think it’s just worth it,” he said regarding the managers. “I will support it because it’s just too important.”
The proposal only covered home games, with athletes forced to abide by comparable policies passed by school boards in the districts they are expected to play road games. For Memorial and Central, that would include Goffstown, Concord and Bedford, with Bedford reconsidering its decision to cancel its football season earlier in the evening.
A pass system would be given to immediate family members to allow them to attend games, and only immediate family members would be allowed into games held outdoors, with spirit and volleyball played indoors without any fans.
A motion on the 12 recommendations passed 12-1, with only Craig in opposition.
A motion for West and the middle schools passed 12-1, with Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9) voting in opposition out of concern for the safety of the volleyball games. Volleyball was approved at Memorial and Central earlier in the month in a vote that allowed “low risk” and “medium risk” sports to be played at those two schools.
The decision on the “high risk” sports, football and spirit, was tabled for Memorial and Central, with those two sports approved by a vote of 11-2.
At the beginning of the meeting, several members of the public spoke in favor of allowing football, many of which came from the West football program itself.
The words of Xavier Burpee, a senior at West and a key part of the Blue Knights’ wildcat offense, touched Committeewoman Leslie Want.
Want had been skeptical of allowing football given the inability of players to social distance during games, but Burpee’s statement that sports were the key reason he remained in school and he needed this final season to showcase his talents to colleges was too much to ignore.
“I came into this firmly opposed, but after hearing from Xavier Burpee and Telge, I think it’s okay,” she said. “I still question how we’re going to keep kids safe, but I think I now have the confidence to support this.”
Beaudry and James Porter (Ward 1) opposed the “high risk” sports motion. Jane Beaulieu (Ward 10) and Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) were absent for all three votes.