Keeping hope: WHS looks to participate in winter sports

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Credit: Lauren Medeiros

The girls varsity basketball team lines up prior to a playoff game last winter. Although the season is scheduled to tip off in around a month, the team has not had any organized basketball activity together. “I know that some of my players continued with their AAU programs in the spring, summer, and fall,” girls varsity basketball coach Amanda Rukstalis said. “As a program and a school, we haven’t done any organized basketball together.”

On Saturday, Nov. 7, fall athletics officially ended for WHS, marking the transition to winter sports. The winter sports season has been questionable since the start of COVID-19; however, recently more guidance has come out, suggesting that the season may very well happen. Basketball and ice hockey are among the sports allowed to have games. So far, wrestling has been the only sport not approved to host events.

Winter sports will look to follow a similar pattern to that in the fall. If approved, the winter sports will likely have a DCL regular-season schedule and a DCL small tournament. However, the nature of winter sports has raised question marks.

“We have a lot more challenges because of the number of winter sports listed as ‘high risk’ activities,” Wayland Athletic Director Heath Rollins said. “Also, sports being indoor causes a higher level of concern.”

Although many winter sports are inside, some have been deemed less of a risk. Alpine skiing is outside and naturally distanced. Additionally, gloves and face coverings are worn normally.

“I would say that the only restrictions needed would be for racers to wear a mask, and to space out 6sixfeet within each other while waiting for their turn to go down the course,” junior alpine ski athlete Devin Dicarlo said. “Overall, I think that skiing as a whole is very COVID-19 safe.”

A major reason for the small DCL regular-season schedule is to be able to control an outbreak. Girls varsity basketball coach Amanda Rukstalis remains hopeful for a season as they have the small schedule in place, and there have been basketball practices in the state so far.

“If we do play, it should be [in] small group[s] to contain [it], and contract tracing would be much easier,” Rukstalis said. “The only reason why I believe there is potential to have an opportunity to play would be because AAU [club] practices are going on with masks on in Massachusetts.”

A major consequence of COVID-19 is the uncertainty of events. While the regular winter season is still scheduled, preseason leagues and tournaments have been canceled for many teams, including girls basketball.

“We typically play in a summer league and a fall league which were both canceled,” Rukstalis said. “That was obviously very unfortunate because it is a good way for the girls to get some extra playing time together in the offseason and obviously work on their skills.”

It is no question that some winter sports are safer than others. While many athletes may get their season cut short or canceled altogether, Dicarlo believes that safe sports still have the right to play.

“It would be wrong to make another sport not get the chance to play just because one won’t fit in the COVID-19 restriction guidelines,” Dicarlo said. “When comparing sports, some tend to be more COVID-19 friendly than others.”

Similar to the fall, the MIAA tournament will not be happening this winter. Although there is no state championship to chase, Rukstalis believes that the motivation will still be there for her team.

“At the varsity level, we still have the expectation that we are playing to win,” Rukstalis said. “Even though there isn’t going to be that MIAA state tournament where you need those ten wins to get in, I think that we will still look at every game like we want to win it, and we will compete at the level that we want to compete at.”

Although there are uncertainties, the athletic department remains confident that winter sports will be played, in one form or another.

“We are committed to running in-person activities for our students,” Rollins said. “We will modify any sport to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.”