Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupting most aspects of our daily lives, both Belmont Hill and Winsor were able to maintain some form of athletic competition throughout the fall season. Although each sport was subject to rule changes and game restrictions, most Varsity teams across both schools had the opportunity to compete in multiple scrimmages. At Belmont Hill, students began competing during the second half of the season in Football, Cross Country, and Soccer. At Winsor, the scrimmages began later in the season in Soccer, Volleyball, Field Hockey, and Cross Country. Most athletes acknowledged that new restrictions were difficult to adapt to, though they were glad to participate in contests this fall.
Winsor began sports with a phased approach, starting with individual skills and working up to scrimmages with other schools, and, of course, all athletes wore masks while participating. Upper School teams had virtual practices Monday, Tuesday, a conditioning workout on Wednesdays, and then in-person practices Thursday and Friday.
Field hockey got rid of corners in games, which happens when there is a penalty, in order to keep players six feet apart when possible. This sport also split into JV and Varsity and had four scrimmages with other schools. “The time we had on the field was really fun, so it was disappointing that we only got to practice twice a week,” said varsity player Ally K. ’23.
Soccer made the decision not to split up into JV and Varsity and practiced and played as one large team. But the rules of soccer were impacted with kick-ins instead of throw-ins and no contact between players. This sport also managed to have four interscholastic scrimmages. “Basically it was pretty normal at practice except for wearing masks and socially distancing”, said Caroline F. ’23
Volleyball had rules change as well: the ball was sanitized every point, the teams did not switch sides, and athletes had to stay out of the “COVID zone”, which was a sectioned off area right in front of the net. This sport was able to have two interscholastic scrimmages. Yuni C. ’23 said, “I think the biggest change this season was the team’s collective attitude towards practices and commitment— since we were only able to have two days of court time per week, we had to really savor the time we had together so our appreciation, focus, and excitement for our practices and games definitely increased!”
Winsor’s crew team was not able to go to the boathouse or row in 4- or 8-person boats as a whole team, however, they were able to go in small groups and practice in single sculls. This sport decided not to split into JV and Varsity, and also were not able to have any racing. Austin F. ’23, said that “it was frustrating to be the only sport not allowed to compete, or even practice normally, (especially after the state government ruled it was equal risk to soccer and field hockey,) but single sculling was a great new experience and it was super fun to get out on the river.” The Cross Country team was able to practice and compete wearing masks, as students split into A, B, and C teams because restrictions state that they could only race twelve people at a time. This sport was able to have 5 races against other schools including the Codfish Bowl, and the Mayor’s Cup. Chloe C. ’23 said that “after virtual school days it was nice to get some fresh air and see my teammates at practice!” Returning runner Raina S. ’23 said, “getting out and running with a group was consistently one of the highlights of my day. Needless to say, the season felt very different from what I am used to, especially since we had far fewer races than we would normally have. However, some of the best parts of Winsor cross country stayed the same. We were able to appreciate some of the beautiful fall foliage during our runs, and I think that the lack of pre-race stress put a welcome emphasis on running as a way of connecting with others.”
On-campus at Belmont Hill, there was certainly apprehension about the fall season given the COVID-19 guidelines both in classrooms and on the field. After two weeks without athletics, the school offered a sweeping program that combined fall and spring sports to offer one of the most diverse programs for students in one season in school history. While students took to the fields in the typical fall sports (Football, Cross Country, and Soccer) they were offered additional spring options such as Lacrosse, Baseball, Golf, Crew, and Track. Despite an ISL vote late in the summer to not confer for a typical schedule of league games and championships, the subset of day schools began planning for scrimmages once the school year began. Due to the relative successes in the schools’ COVID plans, five weekends in October and November were made available for competition.
Despite the lack of opportunity presented by this condensed timeline, the ISL Heads of School and Athletic Directors met weekly to evaluate case numbers on each campus, observations from the previous week, and plan for the coming weekend of contests. Belmont Hill Athletic Director Mr. Tahan noted that Belmont Hill was “very fortunate to be willing and prepared to play each of the five weeks.” He continued to note that while this fall format was certainly not ideal, it was the best opportunity for fall athletes to compete. Once scrimmages began, the schools prioritized opening up the schedule for Junior Varsity teams, and for the last weekend of the season, Senior parents were able to spectate at the final games and race.
In Football, players wore masks for the entirety of their amended 7 vs 7 no-contact games. “It was fun to play with the team,” said Senior Casey Rockett ’21, “even though the games were modified.” On the Soccer field, the mask policy was similar and the league removed throw-ins and free-kick walls, made heading the ball illegal, and even changed penalty procedures. Senior Matthew Britt-Webb ’21 said, “the games may have looked a little different but it was great to get out there with the boys and finish our Senior season.” In Cross Country, the mask policy evolved from race to race, gradually becoming more restrictive. For the team’s final contest at Roxbury Latin, runners were required to wear their masks for the entirety of the 5k course. Senior captain Sreetej Digumarthi said, “while we would have preferred to race without a mask, we were grateful for the opportunity to compete and build the team for next fall.” Mr. Tahan praised the league for their collective understanding of each school’s situation and flexibility throughout the fall. Furthermore, he added that without the support of Belmont Hill’s coaches, none of the expanded offerings would have been possible.
As both schools look ahead to the upcoming winter season, we remain hopeful that these teams too will have the opportunity to compete in interscholastic contests. Despite the worsening pandemic situation, the success of the fall season has set all teams up well for continued safe play throughout the winter. The Winsor Banner and The Belmont Hill Panel wish all athletes the best of luck in the coming months and look forward to watching you play!