MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) is expected to decide upon whether student-athletes will be allowed to represent Manchester’s three public high schools in winter sports, a decision that many of those student-athletes are eagerly awaiting.
That decision will come on the heels of the BOSC’s decision last week to return to fully-remote instruction for nearly all public-school students from Nov. 23 until Jan. 17, 2021 due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates in the city. The latter date in the BOSC’s decision is approximately a week after the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association advises the earliest start date for any winter sports this season, although the remote instruction can be extended depending on whether infection rates fall below the thresholds in the Manchester School District’s return-to-school metrics.
According to Manchester Memorial girls’ basketball team co-captain Jess Carrier, even fellow students who don’t play sports hope that games can take place this winter, given the role of athletics in terms of school spirit as well as breaking up the monotony stemming from the pandemic.
For many high school student-athletes like Carrier, participation in high school athletics also is not just an extra-curricular activity, but an important factor when it comes to college. Right now, Carrier is looking to attend Rivier College or Keene State College and could make a decision based on an offer to play basketball, an offer that becomes harder to give if college coaches can’t see her play this season.
She hopes these facts as well as the fact that girls’ volleyball managed to be played safely during the fall indoors without fans can play a factor in the BOSC’s decision.
“I really hope (the BOSC) can consider letting us play,” said Carrier. “This is season is my only senior season, and I know my teammates want to play as well. If we have to wear masks as well play, we’re okay with that. We’ll do what we have to do to play.”
Carrier played all summer in private leagues, and she says she will play privately again this winter if she doesn’t get the chance to play for the Crusaders. Her coach, Greg Cotreau, says that the assurance of strict safety protocols that might not be seen in private leagues is one clear reason why public high school sports should be allowed to happen this winter in Manchester.
Cotreau says another reason is a message relayed before many NHIAA games: athletics are an extension of the classroom. And unlike many other parts of school, it’s an extension that cannot usually be done remotely.
“For some kids, the thing that keeps them going in school is sports. You take that way, some kids don’t take school as seriously, because they see sports as something that keeps them going,” he said. “With sports, you learn a lot of life lessons that you might not get in a classroom, working as a team, overcoming adversity, how to sacrifice. I think there are a lot of life lessons we teach through our sports throughout life.”
Like Carrier, Cotreau will support any additional requirements to ensure safe play ranging from face masks during play to additional stoppages to disinfect equipment to playing without spectators. Even if players were required to quarantine and learn remotely following the season rather than potentially rejoining their peers if partial or full in-person learning returns, something done in Bedford this fall, would be an acceptable price to pay.
However, for some sports this winter, it’s uncertain if any precautions will be enough to ensure safety from the pandemic.
In guidance provided earlier this year from the NHIAA, the winter sports of wrestling and competitive cheerleading (also known as “spirit”), were classified as “high risk.” And while boys’ and girls’ ice hockey were determined to be “moderate risk” sports in the guidance document, earlier this fall New Hampshire State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan identified eight separate COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from hockey.
BOSC Member James O’Connell is uncertain on supporting the higher risk sports, but says he would support the recommendation of the NHIAA unless he had a very powerful reason not to, although he says he would support prohibiting players on high school teams from participating in private programs for one of the same reasons mentioned by Coutreau: the inability to ensure safety procedures within those private programs.
O’Connell also sees the matter as an equity issue impacting student-athletes in poorer families.
“If we don’t have sports, parents who can afford it will find a way to find a way to get their kids into programs, but parents who can’t afford it will be disenfranchised,” he said.