M-E Hornets Girls Soccer vs Pentucket

ME Varsity Girls Soccer, against Pentucket this fall.

The conclusion of the fall high school sports season restored a bit of normalcy to a world turned upside down in 2020.  Actual field hockey, soccer, cross country and golf was played in spite of the challenges posed by the Coronavirus, and ME Athletes finished up the fall healthy, safe and victorious, completing about two months worth of competition that was never guaranteed.

This hurdle cleared, now comes what might be an even taller task: Will the winter sports season be played this year. 

M-E Hornets vs North Reading - Varsity Boys Soccer

While modifications had to be made for the fall season, those games, meets and matches were all held outdoors, where the risk of transmission of the virus is lower than it is indoors.  That advantage is no longer in place with the switch to the winter season, where the games move inside to rinks and gymnasiums.  At this point, it’s still too early to know if we will be seeing Manchester Essex Regional High School athletes playing sports like basketball and hockey starting in December.  While the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs—the state body that governs amateur sports activities in Massachusetts—has provided guidelines recommending how conducting a safe winter season might be possible, there are a few more steps that need to be taken before we know if hoops and hockey will return in late 2020.

​”We are still in a state of uncertainty right now,” explains Manchester Essex Athletic Director Jordan Edgett.  “The EEA released guidelines last week, so it is currently in the hands of the MIAA and DESE.  They are making sports specific modifications to allow certain sports to be played. Sports that are higher risk - basketball and hockey - will need considerable modifications, similar to soccer, in order to be played.”

Hornets Field Hockey’s Decisive Win

Senior M-E Hornet Bridget Twombly (at right) fights for control of the ball on Senior Night (Tuesday, October 22) against the rivaling team, Georgetown Royals. The Hornets got the win with a decisive score of 5–0, and the Hornets rounded out the whole season with a 12–2–2 record to secure the number four seed in the MIAA D2 North Tournament. A fantastic end to a hard-fought season.

During the fall, soccer and field hockey indeed saw some key changes to the way the sport is traditionally played at this level.  Field hockey went from an 11-on-11 contest to a 7-on-7 sport, while soccer eliminated all contact, headers and throw-ins.  Both changes altered how the sport was played and coached during the fall, but still allowed for the games to be played.  In fact, despite the changes, Edgett believes the fall season overall was a success for the school.

​”I thought our students and coaches adapted to the changes very quickly,” says Edgett.  “Everyone was aware of the guidelines and knew it was a collaborative effort to make this season work. The soccer modifications seemed to be a longer learning curve for everyone. The modifications were extensive and there were discrepancies with how refs perceived each rule change.”

The Hornets were lucky in that they did not see any athletes or coaches exposed to COVID, something that wasn’t the case for other Cape Ann League teams.  As a result, the majority of the sports schedule was played in the fall.

“I think this fall season went very well overall,” says Edgett.  “​One of the biggest challenges that we dealt with was other CAL schools going into the red.  Our students and coaches were great with abiding by the guidelines, but we didn't want to compete against a school that was in a high-risk town, potentially increasing our community's exposure.  Because of this, every team was impacted by a postponement or cancellation.  We were constantly shifting games and practices around.  In the end, most of our teams were able to play all of the games on their schedule.”

ME Hornets Cross Country at Singing Beach

ME Hornets Cross Country coach Steve Wittey on watch at Singing Beach, the site of the team’s first competitive “venue” against Newburyport.

In order to have a shot at replicating that success this winter, there are a number of steps that need to be taken, and approvals that need to be met.  This includes obtaining the okay to play from the School Committee, a process that played out prior to the start of the fall season because Manchester Essex students are still learning remotely instead of attending classes in person. 

“​All remote schools need the approval of the school committee,” explains Edgett.  “Since we are still remote, we will have to go through the same process as the fall.  Once we hear from the MIAA, the CAL ADs will discuss our options to put together a comprehensive and safe plan to be presented to the School Committee.”

​”We are hoping to hear from the MIAA and DESE by the end of this week,” says Edgett said last week. “The current start date for winter sports is Monday, Nov. 30, but that is subject to change.”

Which means it is still possible that most winter sports will be played at ME and in the CAL this year. Wrestling is the one exception - that sport has already been ruled out for the winter season—but this will not affect Manchester Essex, as the team does not currently field a wrestling team.

Also of note: Whether or not there is a winter season, there is still the possibility that we will see football this school year.  No planning has begun for what is considered the “Fall 2” season, which means there is still time to figure out how to make football and cheering a reality for students at some point in February.

Jason Brisbois has covered Cape Ann sports and features for more than 15 years. He would be happy to hear from you with comments or questions at jason@thecricket.com