Vermont H.S. winter sports will happen during COVID. What you need to know. – Burlington Free Press

State officials unveiled sweeping changes Tuesday to how Vermont’s high school winter sports can proceed during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The short version: More masks, no fans and games on hold until the new year.
And, as hinted at in recent weeks, the unique challenges posed by wrestling and indoor track mean neither sport will be offered this winter, according Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.
Vermont’s school-based winter sports still eligible for competition include basketball, ice hockey, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, bowling, gymnastics, dance and cheerleading, though the latter is now prohibited from performing vocal routines this winter.
But the most notable change going forward is the decision to prohibit fans from attending indoor sporting events — a move in line with the recent changes to guidance for recreation and college sports.
More:Vermont officials release updated guidelines for club, college sports
“We recognize this will come as a disappointment to parents and fans of local teams, but minimizing the number of people present is essential to appropriately manage the risk associated with indoor sports events,” Moore said. 
Officials attempted to balance health risks posed by COVID-19 against the mental and physical benefits of sports opportunities for young people, Moore said. But the priority during the process was supporting continued in-person instruction in schools. 
“And, as we continue to see clear evidence of just how fragile this can be with growing case counts and positivity rates, both regionally and also here in Vermont, we are taking necessary precautions,” Moore said.
Practices for school-based sports can begin as early as Nov. 30, per the new guidance. Competition between schools must wait until at least Jan. 11. 
Bob Johnson, associate executive director at the Vermont Principals’ Association, said many unanswered questions remain for the winter season. But the extended period for practices allows the VPA’s sub-committees and league reps more time to sort out schedules and other matters.
Johnson also said he’s unsure if postseason tournaments are a go, but there’s flexibility within the VPA’s timeline to make them happen.
Providing six weeks between the start of practices and games is intentional, Moore said during a news briefing, allowing officials further time to study emerging trends and make adjustments as needed.
Basketball and hockey — indoor sports that involve close proximity or moderate contact — will not be allowed to play more than two games in a seven-day period, according to the Agency of Education guidance document. Their schedule must also allow at least three days between games. 
“Should data emerge that indicates COVID-19 transmission as a result of sports-related activities, this could result in further delaying or suspending games, practices, meets and competitions,” she said. 
The masking mandate implemented for the fall season — players and coaches are required to wear a facial covering at all times, particularly when physical distancing is not possible — has been extended to referees and officials for indoor events.
Gymnasts are excluded from the mask requirement when they are participating in an activity that requires them to be inverted because a facial covering could affect their field of vision. 
While indoor track participants and wrestlers cannot compete this winter, Moore said athletes from those sports can run outside or use weight rooms — as long as health guidelines and safety protocols for COVID mitigation are followed.
“There’s nothing in there that would preclude a group from getting together,” she said.
Moore also said she hopes athletes, such as distance runners, might take up Nordic skiing.
It was unclear on Tuesday if media members will be allowed to cover indoor events at schools or rinks.
According to the guidance, “only key personnel — players, coaches, officials, time and scorekeepers and person(s) providing a live video stream” — have access to attend school-sponsored, indoor events.
When asked if that included working media, Moore could not confirm either way but said she would provide a follow-up at a later time.
During the fall, media members have covered outdoor events, and have not been counted among the spectator count. The 150-person limit on spectators remains in effect for outdoor sports this winter.
Some schools have already begun making plans to stream games in their gyms. South Burlington athletic director Mike Jabour posted on his Twitter page on Tuesday that they will install two high-definition cameras in their gym after entering into an agreement with the NFHS network.
The new winter sports guidance also calls for the following precautions: 
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Contact Alex Abrami at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5. Contact Austin Danforth at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @eadanforth.


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