MANCHESTER, N.H. – The high school winter sports season has been pushed back to January in New Hampshire, but Manchester’s public schools will wait another two weeks before learning whether its students will participate in this upcoming season.
In a 9-6 vote, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) voted to table the decision, due in large part to concerns of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the city.
Leslie Want (Ward 4) referred to the decision as a “no-win” vote regarding the passionate support for and against a season from differing parts of the community and she was not alone in that sentiment.
James Porter (Ward 1) has coached youth sports for over 20 years and said that “every bone in his body” wanted to vote yes for this, but felt uncomfortable supporting winter sports due concerns over whether other school districts will follow appropriate safety protocols as well as the COVID-19 spike and how it might impact student-athletes who will be inside and within six feet of each other.
As of Monday, the city had a rolling 14-day average of just over 50 new COVID-19 cases per day, five times the amount needed to automatically put Manchester schools automatically into remote instruction and approximately ten times the amount of daily cases present in the city when the BOSC made its decision on the mostly outdoor fall sport slate.
Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9) voted against fall sports and believed that last week’s decision to pre-emptively put Manchester students into remote instruction would guide his decision.
“If our students are not in class, why would we have them on the field,” he said.
Dr. Nicole Leapley (Ward 11) echoed that opinion, citing data from the Manchester Health Department and how it does not fit into the suggested criteria for the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NHIAA) return-to-play guidelines.
Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5) went further, citing the recent decision by Massachusetts to require New Hampshire residents to quarantine for 14 days as well as long lines for COVID tests he noticed at pharmacies in the city. Without spectators to purchase tickets for games, he also noted that sports will be more costly during a time when the district already is facing a $9 million budget shortfall.
Comments during the public forum prior to the meeting were heavily in favor of allowing a winter season and several members of the BOSC also supported the recommendation of Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt to allow a winter season with safety restrictions.
Peter Perich (Ward 8), a member of the NHIAA Soccer Committee, said that sports are vital for breaking the monotony of remote education for student-athletes. James O’Connell (At-Large) and Kathleen Kelly-Arnold noted that the decision was an equity issue, as student-athletes from well-to-do families would just play in private leagues not accessible to poorer students.
Goldhardt went further, stating that sports are the key reason why many student-athletes remain in school, stating that many student-athletes will drop out of school without sports, adding to the hundreds of students that have left the district this year already.
William Shea (Ward 7) also spike in support of sports and its role as an extension of the classroom.
Mayor Joyce Craig preferred that the winter season start near the expected timeframe for the distribution of proposed COVID-19 vaccines, likely in March or April, but at the very least wait to see if the current spike of COVID-19 cases can level off.
Kelly-Arnold, Shea, Perich and O’Connell were joined by Jane Beaulieu (Ward 10) and Joseph Lachance (At-large) in opposing the tabling motion, which postpones discussion on the decision for at least another two weeks. Mayor Craig and all other members of the BOSC supported the motion.