Essex prepares for fall sports season

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – The fields at Essex High School were quiet this day, but that will soon change if everything goes according to plan.

Fall sports teams can begin holding official practiced as soon as the new school year begins next Tuesday. Essex athletic director Pat Merriam and his staff are preparing for that day and are making every effort to prepare for all contingencies.

“There’s anxiety, there still some questions about how we’re going to operate. It will be a little bit of controlled chaos.”, says Merriam. “There’s still some dry run pieces that we need to build in, but we’re confident. It’s like starting most every other season. There are just a few more precautions regarding safety and security that we need to pay attention to.”

At Essex, some of those guidelines will include temperature screening stations set up at the entry points to the athletic fields.

With Essex opening the school year using the hybrid model of two days of in-school learning and three at home, those stations will allow student athletes who were remote learning that day to be screened before taking part in a practice or game.

Coaches, officials and any other person on site for a practice or game will be screened as well. Masks will be required at all times and Merriam says the school will be providing some masks, but athletes will have the freedom to choose whatever style mask works best for them. Merriam says after initial frustrations over the mask requirement, focus has shifted.

“I think general acceptance of mask and facial coverings, we’ve moved beyond that. Many of the kids that I’ve been in contact or coaches have spoken to, they’ve been out experimenting with which type of mask works best with them. So kids are experimenting, coaches are experimenting with what works best and what’s best suited for their particular activity.”

Another big question, when games can be played, who can attend? Right now, outdoor gatherings in the state are capped at 150 people. The plan Essex is working on calls for fans to sit on the opposite sidelines from team benches, or behind the fence for football.

Also, the plans right now call for games to not be open for the general public, but that the players on each team would be given a number of ‘tickets’ so that parents, guardians or extended family can attend the games.

“We’re trying to obviously work within the procedures and protocols, but also be fairly consistent. There are a couple of schools that I’m aware of that aren’t allowing any spectators at all, so that takes the whole voucher, or any sort of ticketing, system out of play. I don’t wanna do that. I want to allow parents and guardians to come and watch their kids, and/or grandkids, participate.”

Merriam says technology will play a big role in helping this fall season become a success, with the ability to quickly get out information to staff, fans, families and especially players.

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