Let the Games Begin: Governor Scott Loosens Restrictions on High School Sports


BHS nordic skiers wax their skis in preparation for a race against each other // Photo courtesy of Eric Hart

Rebecca Cunningham and Jackson Haugh

As the sun slipped below the horizon on Wednesday, February 3, BHS Nordic skiers sprinted towards the finish at Hard’ack Recreational Center. These BHS athletes only raced their teammates, but their times would be compared with other high school skiers who had completed the course at earlier assigned hours. In blue and white striped uniforms, racers crossed the finish individually due to staggered start times 30 seconds apart. They came flying across the line and collapsed, exhausted, on the snow. The venue lacked spectators, but coaches cheered loudly along the 5K course, ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement to compensate. 

Two days later, at Governor Phil Scott’s biweekly press conference, Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources, Julie Moore, announced that all high school and youth sports leagues could return to competition with opposing teams beginning February 12. 

BHS Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney was thrilled by the news. 

“I am super excited and pleased!” he said. “It just feels like there is a sense of hope–we are one step closer to the other side of the pandemic and getting back to a sense of normalcy.”

Return to play has moved in stages for winter sports this year so that public health officials can monitor Covid-19 transmission. On December 26–roughly a month later than their scheduled start–Governor Scott allowed high school and youth leagues to practice without contact, wearing masks, and in groups of 25 or less. Three weeks later, on January 18, the state lifted contact restrictions which meant teams could run physical drills and scrimmage each other. 

Governor Scott, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, and the Vermont Principals Association approved the return to competition on February 12 because they have found little evidence of Covid-19 transmission among youth sports in the past month.

BHS alpine team // Photo: courtesy Dahlia Rubin

“Admittedly, our approach to sports has been among the most cautious in the nation,” Scott said Friday, February 12. “We now feel comfortable taking the next step and allowing competition with some additional safety measures.”

The state outlined strict safety restrictions for return to play. To reduce the spread of Covid-19, they also prohibited spectators from attending games or meets and required athletes to wear masks–except during competition that does not involve contact. They also asked that teams schedule competitions at least three days apart and play or race only twice a week.

Every winter sport at BHS–Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, basketball, ice hockey, and indoor track–will play games or race against other schools starting tomorrow, February 12. 

“I am excited about the challenge,” indoor track runner, Jordyn O’Brien, said about the opportunity to race again. “It finally feels like the hard work is going to pay off.” 

Despite the atypical season, BHS teams are prepared to begin competition due to successful practices in the past month. 

“I think the big difference is because of Covid-19 everyone is in such a good mood and excited to come to practice,” Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Tom Barron said. “Everybody is so helpful and respectful to one another. There are no egos or attitudes.” 

Typical routines and tryouts began on January 18. Until then, each sport split into smaller training groups based on grade level and experience. Coaches also modified early season practices to meet social distancing requirements. 

The basketball and hockey teams ran drills without contact. They used cones as opponents and shot on individual hoops or nets. Winter track club (formerly known as indoor track) members shoveled 400 meters of the outdoor track after snowstorms to run outside where air circulates more freely. The Nordic and alpine ski teams did not have to make drastic changes because skiing requires at least six feet of space but they did consciously avoid gathering.

BHS boys basketball players shooting hoops at practice. // Photo: courtesy Amari Fraser

“Our school community is so resilient,” Pinckney said. “We’ve adapted to all the protocols and procedures in place. We’ve rolled with the punches of the unknown. Our coaches have done such a great job of keeping our students engaged and upbeat throughout all the different levels of participation.”

O’Brien shared how her mindset towards practice has changed this year.

“Last year I often thought ‘Oh I have practice. I just want to go home,’” she said. “And now I think, ‘Oh I have practice! I want to get out of the house.’”

With Governor Scott’s press release Friday evening, the VPA announced their plan to host state championships in mid-March–an extension of the typical season to give athletes time to prepare. 

Coaches and athletes at BHS are setting end-of-season goals and sights on state titles. 

“I have started to focus more on the state championships this past week,” Nordic coach Kirsten Berggren said. “The girls have a shot at winning this year.” 

Varsity basketball player Amari Fraser said his team is also working to win a state championship. 

“I am looking forward to working hard and bringing some money to BHS,” Fraser said.