COVID-19 Protocols Anticipate the Challenge of Winter Sports’s Close-Contact Nature

As a new term approaches, many student athletes look ahead to the transition to a new season. With the cancellation of all of last year’s winter sports, Andover’s winter teams will compete for the first time this season since the 2019-20 school year with COVID-19 protocols.

According to Elisa Joel, Director of Athletics, and John Roberts, Director of Squash, it remains unclear whether athletes will be required to wear masks indoors. While fall sports practices have been mask optional, the COVID-19 team, a group of faculty members, will determine masking policies for winter sports. Especially with much of the sports taking place indoors, there is a possibility that the athletes will be masking for a short period upon return from breaks.

Anyone from outside the Andover community will be required to wear a mask when watching indoor games or practices. As for off-campus events, masking will vary according to the protocols of other schools, given different community regulations.

“[Connecticut] schools, public and private, currently have a mask-mandate for all — including competing athletes into February. That policy could change but for now, the expectation will be that when our athletes travel to CT and play indoor sports, they will be required to mask,” Joel wrote in an email to The Phillipian.

Similar to Fall term, Andover plans to compete against schools that do not necessarily require vaccination. Although it is unlikely that any Andover team’s season will get cancelled, there is a possibility that some games will get cancelled according to safety measures.

“It’ll be driven by what happens in those schools; if there’s a certain outbreak, especially if it’s on the team, it might involve the cancellation of a match, but then again those decisions will very much be guided by the school’s administration and the athletics department, so they’ll do what they think is best, and safest for the athletes on both teams,” said Roberts.

Roberts also noted that due to the indoor nature of many Winter sports, certain teams will face challenges regarding close-contact tracing. Even more so than this past fall, students and faculty will need to work together in order to have a full season and maintain safe competition.

“Typically any close contact sport inside is a challenge for COVID. Squash is probably one of the worst ones, but I imagine even anything indoors, just off the top of my head like basketball, hockey’s inside, even swimming. It was always a challenge because fans are going to watch, and it creates a tough environment with a lot of people supporting — parents, family members, and everyone coming in to watch these games,” said Roberts.

He continued, “Especially as the winter season comes in, it’ll be flu season as well, which creates extra challenges. It’s just going to be something that we have to try and work with in the safest way possible, while still having the boys and girls enjoy the season. They lost it last season, so I’m really looking forward to this year and hopefully all the teams across the board get to have a good season.”