VPA looks back, ahead

Reflecting on the high school sports year that was and the year to come
Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 10:13 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The 2020-21 Vermont high school sports season came to a close last week, and it was unusual. Students played a season through a pandemic, which then presented constant challenges and obstacles to overcome.

The start of the fall season was delayed into late September, and two sports faced significant changes: football played 7-on-7 touch, and volleyball being moved outdoors. But, ultimately, seasons were held and champions crowned.

The winter season, with most of the sports played indoors, created even more challenges.Indoor track and wrestling were canceled. Sports like dance and cheer held virtual competitions, and the team sports, basketball and hockey, saw multiple schools and programs have to pull out of the playoffs due to COVID. Three state championship games, D-1 girls hockey and D-1 and D-4 girls basketball, were canceled due to positive tests or contact tracing.

The spring, which began with players still wearing masks, ended with a sense of normalcy with no masks and crowds back at games as statewide restrictions were lifted.

Bob Johnson of the Vermont Principals Association says that while the 2020-21 high school sports season presented challenges for everyone involved, from players and coaches to officials and administrators, he feels the value of being able to hold those events this past year has never been more clear.

“Over the past year, the level of importance of these games, in terms of people’s mental health, student’s mental health, just giving them an activity that they could do, was huge,” Johnson said. “I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve had this spring that I’ve come up to me and said, ‘Thank you. Just thank you for having a season, thank you for getting us through the year.’ It’s been a roller coaster over the last year, between frustration and then hope and then frustration and then hope again, and it just finally culminated with us having a great spring season.”

The start of the high school fall season is less than two months away, with practices for fall teams slated to begin on August 19th according to Johnson.

He anticipates a traditional fall, with volleyball back indoors and football returning to 11-on-11 tackle, and Johnson says that in his conversations, that desire to see things return to what was normal prior to the pandemic is strong.

“I think that’s what athletic directors want, I think that’s what schools want,” Johnson said. “They want to get back to that sense of normalcy, and be able to run things the way that we have. And not have to worry about a pandemic where every day you’re checking with your school nurse to see if you have any more reported cases, or are having to call the Department of Health, or you’re having to potentially pull your team from a tournament because you just got exposed. There are so many things like that that had an impact on schools, but I think it’s very important to be able to be as normal as we can when we come into the fall.”

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