BPS reverses course on suspension of winter sports

Boston Latin School girls’ hockey co-captain, Dorchester’s Sydney Hanlon, said the continued suspension on winter sports announced by Boston Public Schools last weekend has hit student athletes hard. They can only sit on the sidelines and hope for a return. Michael O’Reilly photo

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, after this story was posted, the Boston School Committee announced that Athletics Director Avery Esdaile and the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) that they would allow winter high school athletics to proceed starting next Tuesday, Jan. 18.

All winter sports had been paused on Dec. 23, 2021, and were to resume last Monday, Jan. 10, but a decision was announced on Jan. 9 that the suspension of sports would continue indefinitely. After an outpouring of protest from families, athletes, coaches and others, as well as media reports in the Reporter, Boston Public Schools (BPS) reversed course.

“After consultation with the Boston Public Health Commission and in light of a thorough review of recent data, Boston Public Schools is excited to announce that Athletics will officially restart practices on Tuesday, January 18,” read AD Esdaile’s letter. “We are tentatively planning to resume competitions on Monday, January 24 if the COVID-19 surge improves.

Student athletes are required to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing at school, and healthy team habits like masking must be adhered to.

“We are excited to resume the season,” concluded the letter.

The original story follows below.

As the high school sporting world keeps rolling on around them, many Boston Public Schools (BPS) student-athletes have had their winter seasons disrupted for the third time in three years. The school district announced on Sunday night that it will continue the suspension of high school sports that began on Dec. 23 indefinitely, even as private schools in Boston and suburban districts continue with their seasons.

The disparity in policy was hammered home this week on Tuesday as boys’ hockey teams from BC High and Xaverian faced off at Neponset’s Devine Rink. “There are a lot of kids that can keep playing on club hockey teams or are still playing at private schools in Boston and yet we can’t,” said Dorchester’s Sydney Hanlon, a senior co-caption of the Boston Latin School (BLS) girls’ hockey team. “It’s just a punch in the gut when you have them playing sports all around you and we can’t. We just have to continue to adapt.”

BPS officials first instituted the stoppage to slow the spread of Covid-19 during holiday games and tournaments. That suspension was to end on Monday, but BPS spokeswoman Sharra Gaston said on Sunday that school officials had “made the difficult decision to continue the current pause in athletics that started during the winter break,” a move that “prioritizes the health and safety of our students, staff, and spectators.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions in consultation with BPHC (the Boston Public Health Commission) as Covid continues to shape our school year,” her statement concluded.

At Dorchester’s Jeremiah Burke High School, boys’ basketball coach Sean Ryan and his 2019-20 state championship team were set to get back on the court on Monday to defend their title after three interrupted seasons. Even their championship was affected by the virus when the final game in Worcester was cancelled and they shared the title with their opponent. Last year was a shortened year. There was no state tournament, and not much of a season.

Ryan says his team was “chomping at the bit” to resume play. “To date, we’ve played one game and two were postponed,” he said, “and I don’t have any answers for them. Sports matter an awful lot to kids in the city, and especially basketball at a school like Jeremiah Burke. A lot of kids choose to come here because of the sports like basketball. Honestly, to persuade them to come back to school without it has been difficult.”

Like many coaches across the city, Ryan said he is all for safety and not saying anyone made a wrong decision. He supports the pause, but also cannot overlook that other schools around Boston, and private schools in Boston, are still playing games safely. He hopes his team can get to that point sooner rather than later.

For some players, he said, their future could hinge on having more games. “I feel I have one of the better kids in the city right now, but he’s a senior and didn’t play as big a role (in 2020) when he was a sophomore,” he said. “Last year he made a lot of progress, but it was a short season and masks and everything, it was a hard to get a college coach to come out in that environment. For some of these kids, basketball might present an opportunity that opens doors for them to get to college. That opportunity is being taken away from them right now.”

Katie Nolan, a Dorchester resident and Boston Latin Academy (BLA) girls’ hockey head coach, worries that some of her players might never get a “normal” season, an experience that affects their emotional health significantly.

“These sports are an outlet to get away from school pressures and outside factors, so when they get on the court or on the ice, those things go away,” she said. “That has now been taken away from them again.

“Last year they only got to play 10 games and started super late. This year we were given false hope that we’d have a full season,” added Nolan. “Kids need the social interaction and that keeps getting stripped from them. You go a couple miles down the road to Quincy or Milton and they’re still playing. A lot of private schools in Boston are still playing in Boston.”

Brenna Galvin, assistant coach for the BLS girls’ hockey team, said they are very disappointed with the suspension. Still, she credits team leaders – particularly Hanlon and fellow Dorchester senior co-captain Sarah Young – with their grit and leadership in the face of it all.

“They are more resilient and have endured things that no other team before them even had to,” said Galvin. “They’ve been showing great leadership and that means something much different in 2022…It’s the things that don’t show up on a scorecard that these kids are hitting out of the park. They say city kids are built differently, and I believe that.”

Both Hanlon and Young grew up playing Dorchester Youth Hockey and have played hockey at BLS since the seventh grade. This was to be their last year, and they hoped to defend the Dual County League title they’ve held for four years. Now, watching from the sidelines while the rest of that predominately suburban school league continues to play, their hopes are in question. In fact, they don’t even know if they’ll ever suit up again.

“We have to adjust to the mindset of playing every game like it’s our last game and giving 110 percent at every practice because it might be our last practice,” said Hanlon. “Usually when they say play every game like your last or to give 110 percent, it’s a morale booster. This season it’s just the truth.”

Added Young, “It’s devastating news because this was probably the last year I’ll play hockey in my life, and it keeps getting postponed and getting worse every day. You play all your life, and you wait all that time for your senior season and then it feels like it’s taken away.”

Dorchester resident and BLA girls’ hockey captain Maeve Roche said the team mood is very low. “I’d say the mood of the team is that we’re very down because we have no answers to when we might get to go back, if ever,” Roche said.

For both BLS girls’ hockey and Burke boys’ basketball, the show has gone on for their rivals, and their hopes of continued dominance on the ice or hardwood boils down to a waiting game.

“In a perfect world I would like to start back up tomorrow because the rest of the state is playing now,” said Young. “I get it, but we’re the only team now that isn’t playing in the Dual County League, which we’ve won four years in a row.”

Added Hanlon, “Our league opponents will not wait around for us…Right now, we can only watch from the sidelines and hope.”

•••

On Jan. 12, City Councillor-at-Large Erin Murphy sent a statement to the Reporter in which she said "we should be doing everything possible to get our Boston Public Schools sports back on track."

"Kids in neighboring towns are still playing sports. Many of our BPS students are still playing sports in their neighborhood athletic organization. As long as we are following CDC guidelines, I do not think we should continue the pause that was started during winter break. Boston Public School kids need this outlet for the social and mental health, now more than ever."

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