So, why did the Rhode Island Principals’ Committee on Athletics announce that it was pulling the plug
on its fall season for middle school sports two days after Gov. Gina Raimondo announced she wanted schools to participate in sports?
As with everything related to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s more than one reason.
The committee’s decision was based on several factors, the biggest being the educational philosophy middle schools across the state are adopting for the 2020-21 school year. If the Rhode Island Department of Education is recommending middle schools stay in a stable pod system, the Principals’ Committee had a hard time rationalizing going outside the pod to play competitive sports.
“It’s counterproductive to say we’re really going to stand on our heads to make stable pods work from 7:30 to 2, but at 2:30, we’re saying now we can mix them together,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Patricia Aull, who’s also the principal at Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown. “We understand when they go home, it can happen and we can’t control that, but it felt like we were saying two different things as a school.”
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Raimondo’s announcement made it seem like middle school sports were a definite but that was hardly the case.
Aull said the committee had met prior to the announcement and was leaning heavily toward postponing fall sports because of uncertainty about what, if any, sports would be allowed.
The state worked directly with the RIIL, which governs high school athletics, coming up with its fall sports guidelines. The Principals’ Committee wasn’t involved in those discussions and doesn’t work as an independent governing body like the RIIL does; instead, the Principals’ Committee’s board makes decisions and those are communicated directly to the schools.
The committee also offers fewer sports than the RIIL. In the fall, the Principals’ Committee oversees boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country and unified cross country.
These sports were not canceled. the committee’s intention is to try and adopt a “second fall” season between winter and spring, similar to what the RIIL is doing with its four seasons plan.
“It is inconvenient and I know it’s disappointing, especially for the cross country athletes because there aren’t a lot of cross country opportunities for them as a team,” Aull said. “There is for soccer and I know kids are doing that. It’s disappointing for them and it’s disappointing for us. Our board talked about it for a long time and felt this was the decision that was best for the health and safety of students and parents.”
Besides concerns about disrupting the stable groups — something Aull said schools voiced concern about after Raimondo’s announcement — there were also issues with scheduling and transportation.
“The unwritten rule is we stay away from weekend stuff because the kids are still involved in youth programs,” said Terry Lynch, athletic director at South Kingstown who serves as the Principals’ Committee’s vice chairman. “We would have had to run on the weekend because of transportation issues.”
While it seems as easy as asking students to have parents bring them to and from games or practices, it’s not that easy. For one, some school districts require athletes to be on the bus to and from events.
Secondly — and almost more importantly — there’s a good number of students who have parents who don’t have personal transportation.
“It’s not fair to say since your parent doesn’t have transportation, you can’t participate,” Aull said.
With most districts also sharing facilities with high schools, there was a concern that middle school sports could disrupt high school athletics. For those athletes, there aren’t youth sports options like there are for middle school students and the stakes are a little higher at the varsity level.
“Middle school sports, we’re very passionate about it but we also felt high schools needed to go first,” Aull said.
“When the RIIL said run games on the weekend, that put us during the week, and when we asked the busing companies, they were like, ‘Good luck.’ ”
While the Principals’ Committee is postponing, Rhode Island’s Catholic Athletic League will have fall sports for its members. The only sports it runs during the fall are cross country (19 teams) and coed tennis (eight teams). The CAL host coed soccer in the spring.
CAL administrator Phil Ricci said the league started putting together plans in the summer. Because their only two sports were allowed by Phase III guidelines, the CAL was able to start contacting venues — state and municipal parks — to request permits to run events.
The CAL also doesn’t have to worry about transportation; it’s up to families to get athletes to practices and events.
Planning is still ongoing and restrictions are being put in place. For example, cross country teams will be allowed to travel only with its six competing runners instead of the whole team.
“Ultimately, we’re optimistic but we don’t know exactly how things could change because they change so rapidly,” Ricci said. “We’re moving ahead, one foot in front of the other.”
The Principals’ Committee’s next plan of action is waiting for winter. The league hosts basketball, wrestling and a unified basketball program that starts a little later in the season. It offers baseball, softball, track and field and coed tennis in the spring.
“Our hope,” Aull said, “is we don’t have to postpone or cancel any other sports this year.”