Athletic Director Bob Rodgers updated the School Committee on a waiver proposal, MIAA team rankings and other athletics issues on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
The MIAA has a waiver process through which eighth-graders may be allowed to participate at the lowest level of sports that offer waivers when it is needed to sustain a program.
“It’s something that you try not to do,” Rodgers said, noting that in more than 20 years at W-H it has never been done. “However, it is becoming very common right now. Because of the pandemic, participation numbers have decreased, so it’s a way to try to get more interest in the programs and to sustain some of the programs.”
The School Committee approved the waivers on a year-to-year basis.
While, it doesn’t guarantee they will be used, Rodgers said W-H has applied for and received waivers for the co-op girls’ ice hockey team with Silver Lake and for the softball team. Both middle school principals support the waivers, if they are needed.
“I won’t know if we need it until we actually see the numbers,” he said. The school will only do it if it doesn’t displace a high school student.
This year there are not enough girls to field a JV softball team and he hopes the waiver will create some interest and establish a feeder system to help sustain the program.
“It will be kind of like a game-time decision,” Rodgers said based on attendance and outcomes of preseason meetings. It’s a one-year decision he said he hoped would not have to be repeated.
He also announced to the committee that he plans to apply for an eighth-grade waiver for wrestling.
“Because of the pandemic, our numbers were so low last year — and the wrestling season was done in the spring,” Rodgers said, noting he is uncertain if the low numbers were due to the time of year the sport was offered.
School Committee member Mike Jones asked who makes the decision to determine whether it is safe for an eighth-grader to play certain sports. Rodgers said it would be a coaches’ decision and it could not be used to find an individual player for a team. Tryouts would have to be held and player decisions made after that.
While he was abstaining from the issue and would only help with the discussion, Chairman Christopher Howard said a parent had approached him about the issue.
“What we’re doing here is to support the high school students that otherwise would not be able to participate in the activity,” Howard said he told the parent. “This isn’t an opportunity for the eighth-graders to play up. That’s a by-product.”
The waivers have also raised a complication for the WHAM co-op swim team with Middleboro, which received a waiver to enable them to have their own swim team as of last year. W-H students already on the team were allowed to finish, but W-H is now without a team or a pool.
Rodgers has been working with Cardinal Spellman to form a co-op swim team, which could be a good fit because they swim at Massasoit. But the schools being in different districts has made for some rough going.
He also said parents have begun asking why coached have not been making substitutions off the bench when the teams are winning by lopsided margins.
“The state is going through the most radical change that we’ve ever had in terms of how the MIAA is operating,” Rodgers said, reporting that W-H has voted against the changes. “I think it’s bad for kids, I think it’s bad for educational athletics.”
Sectional play is no longer done, now championships are statewide, with no regional play ahead of tournaments. If the field hockey team was in the tournament, its first game would be against Nashoba Regional or Longmeadow.
“That’s not even the big problem,” he said. “The big problem is the power rankings.” The top 32 teams in the state by power rankings make it into the tournaments.
“About half the teams make it,” Rodgers said.
Teams are no longer seeded by winning percentage, but by point differential in all wins combined with opposing teams.
“It does affect how coaches will coach games,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak also said he was adamantly opposed to the change in rankings and offered to draft a letter to the MIAA if the committee wanted to go that route, and encouraged the committee to do so. The committee’s consensus was to seek such a letter be sent.
“The MIAA is all of us, it’s all of you,” Rodgers said. “I sit on several committees. This decision was not made by any executive at the MIAA or any personnel … their only job is to implement what’s been voted on — the state-wide playoffs were voted by the membership, which is the principals.”
Rodgers and WHRHS Principal Dr. Christopher Jones voted against the statewide playoffs. The power rankings were voted by the tournament management committee of athletic directors and principals, not anyone at the MIAA, according to Rodgers.
“I am super-confident that this will not last,” he said.
The School Committee also voted to authorize travel to out-of-state/overnight field trips to competitions or extra tournaments, which are funded by fundraising conducted by the teams. No school budget funds are expended on them.
School Committee member Heather Kniffen expressed concern over health of the students in view of travel to Florida and Texas.
Rodgers said the students would be required to take COVID tests when they return. School policy regarding masks will be followed on out-of-state field trips.
If the school has a team lucky to be in tournament play in a marquee venue like Boston Garden, may mean the entire team and traveling fans would have to be vaccinated or the team would have to play in a different location, Rodgers and Szymaniak said.
If there was a COVID surge in any destination, Rodgers said the trip could be canceled.