Citing numerous issues involving the COVID-19 pandemic, the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council canceled its postseason tournaments in each sport for the fall season, the organization announced Thursday in a statement it released on its website.
Consisting of more than 110 schools, spanning seven states, the NEPSAC includes over 30 schools from Connecticut.
NEPSAC President George Tahan, said plenty of factors went into the decision to cancel the organization’s championship tournaments.
“In the past few weeks, the Board has heard from a majority of NEPSAC leagues that have made determinations that they will be canceling, or significantly altering their interscholastic competition schedules for the upcoming fall season,” Tahan said. “As a result of this, and constraints related to the ongoing pandemic, and the desire to maximize flexibility for member schools, the Board has determined that it would be prudent at this time to cancel all NEPSAC Championship events for the fall of 2020.”
The NEPSAC features more than 15 leagues, several of which are football-only leagues. Some leagues, such as the Founders League and Fairchester Athletic Association, and the Independent School League, canceled league competition for the season.
“With the majority of NEPSAC leagues not being able to play traditional fall schedules, the Board felt that any NEPSAC Championship events held would not have enough membership participation to merit holding the events,” Tahan stated in the conference’s press release. Such events are also untenable as NEPSAC membership spans seven states, each of which has different pandemic regulations governing participation in athletics, travel, and gathering in large groups.”
Tahan also noted that the NEPSAC championship events are typically hosted by member schools and the Board felt it was important to recognize that member schools may not be able to host events under the current circumstances.
The NEPSAC’s message indicates that schools have the option to work with each other to schedule fall athletic events. The games won’t count toward league standings, or result in teams qualifying for any type of postseason.
“The Board wanted to create maximum flexibility for schools for the fall with respect to any scheduling they may undertake,” Tahan said in the conference’s statement. “By canceling our championships at this time, schools are now free to schedule any fall contests as they see fit, rather than worrying about whether their schedule will allow them to qualify for post-season play.”
“Further, schools can now also use the normal NEPSAC post-season week (Nov. 16-22) in order to schedule additional fall play if they so desire.”
The FAA offered a similar scenario when it announced its cancellation of conference play on Wednesday.
In the FAA’s statement, it left open the possibility of its schools still having some type of athletic competition this fall.
“The decision to cancel conference competition does not preclude individual institutions from scheduling interscholastic opportunities between and among schools, if able,” the statement read.
However, that’s all contingent as to when each school returns to in-school learning and if schools feel comfortable playing each other. Travel/schedule arrangements will also play a factor should teams decide to compete against each other in “friendly” type games.
Sacred Heart Greenwich Athletic Director Liz Dennison heads a program that competes in the FAA, which is a league that is included in the NEPSAC.
“We are disappointed that we are not going to have a traditional season,” Dennison, who watched Sacred Heart’s field hockey team win the NEPSAC Class A championship in 2019. “Being able to compete for an FAA and NEPSAC title is important for our coaches and programs. We understand the NEPSAC’s decision is in the best interest of public health, the students and the student-athletes and coaches.We know they want to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
Indeed, athletic programs throughout the NEPSAC must get especially creative in order to provide a sports experience for their fall student-athletes.
“We still hope to provide a robust athletic program, that includes practices, skill-based instruction, leadership activities and intramural games,” Dennison said. “There is great competition within our own school and we hope to schedule interscholastic games, as long as health conditions permit our school and other local schools in our area to do so. If we are able to schedule play days or scrimmages, we will do that.”
Hopkins School, which also plays in the NEPSAC’s FAA, won’t have a chance to play for its fourth straight boys league soccer championship.
“We have to make the right decision for everyone in our school communities, and this is almost certainly the right decision,” Hopkins boys soccer coach Joe Addison said. “I am absolutely crushed for our seniors, who won’t get a chance to compete at a high level, but we will do our best as coaches to replicate the intensity of games in our own training. It will be imperfect, but we have wonderful students who will adapt and rally to create a meaningful soccer experience for each other.”
The NEPSAC holds championship tournaments in boy and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, field hockey and volleyball. In football, the NEPSAC features numerous championship bowl games, which also won’t be held this fall. Brunswick School football coach Mike Hannigan guided the Bruins to victory in the Todd Marble NEPSAC Championship Bowl last season. While his squad won’t play in a postseason bowl this fall, he hopes to still be able to schedule regular season games. Brunswick is part of the newly-formed Northeast Prep Conference.
“I was assuming they were not going to be holding bowl game anyway,” Hannigan said. “I think everyone in the Northeast Prep Conference is taking a wait-and-see mindset. Let’s get back to school first and see what happens.”
Hamden Hall Country Day football coach Joe Linta sympathizes with the players on his squad.
“Devastating news for the team and coaches,” Linta said. “For high school kids, to lose sports and the team they’re on is like losing a friend or family member. It becomes a part of their daily lives. The Hamden Hall football team is my second family. To not have that this year is a profound loss. “If we have guidance that it is safe from our Headmaster, Bob Izzo, and state medical officials, we would love to play the teams in Connecticut like King, St. Lukes, Hopkins and Canterbury or any public school.”
The NEPSAC’s decision was indeed, a difficult one.
“The Executive Board’s decision to cancel all Fall 2020 NEPSAC Championships was made after careful deliberation,” the NEPSAC statement read. “It is a result of information received from member schools as they continue to respond to the continuing pandemic in the context of their interscholastic athletic programs. It was also made based on the complexity and constraints involved in holding such events during the current pandemic.”
Joe Morelli contributed to this article; firstname.lastname@example.org