The Eastern equine encephalitis virus has come to the River Rival Region, and the high school sports scene is making moves to accommodate it.
Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury, West Newbury and Merrimac have all placed a ban on any outdoor activities on public properties over varying degrees from 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. each day until further notice. That means that all the local school sports teams are affected both with games and practices just three weeks into the season and with no end in sight until the first overnight killing frost arrives.
Friday night football is on hold indefinitely, as no local team will be hosting a night game until at least the first frost. This week’s Amesbury vs. Hamilton-Wenham game, orginally scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m., will be played Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. The Pentucket vs. Ipswich game scheduled for Friday night will be played Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
“This kids’ health is more important than anything else,” says Newburyport golf coach Steve Malenfant. “We’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Other big games have already been rescheduled, including the annual ALS Cup soccer matches between Newburyport and Pentucket. Originally scheduled for last Friday night, those games were postponed, and the Triton/Ipswich football game was moved from the typical Friday night slot to Saturday morning.
In Georgetown, which has already seen the death of a horse from EEE last month, the ban is even more severe, prohibiting activity on school grounds from 3 p.m. to 9 a.m. The ban has also been going on since preseason. First-year boys soccer coach Matt Laut frankly knows no other way to do things right now.
“None of the coaches are happy,” confesses Laut. “But we’re all in the same boat, and we know that being down about it isn’t going to do us any good. If we start complaining, the players are going to see that, and it will break down everyone else’s morale. As long as the players stay positive, that’s the biggest thing.”
Every day is an away day for Georgetown right now. Laut’s Royals have not had a home game so far this season and practice in the softball field at Haverhill Stadium. But Laut thinks that just might end up being a good thing for the 3-1-1 team.
“We’re on the road every day, so when it comes to playoff time, we’re going to be a well-tested team,” says Laut. “We’re used to going on the road (now), so it’s not going to be any different than what we’ve had the whole season.”
Laut’s counterpart at Pentucket, Christian Langlois, sees the ban as just another New England condition at the moment.
“The effect on us, luckily, hasn’t been too great,” says Langlois. “There’s always things that happen every year that make you adjust your schedule, sometimes on short notice. It’s just the kind of thing that we come to expect every year, so we don’t get too fazed by changes that come up.”
“Newburyport has made the determination that it is dangerous,” Malenfant says of the current situation. “We have to have our matches done by 5 p.m. and our practices as well, so that puts just a little bit more pressure on the kids.”
Those 5 p.m. curfews can also force early release from the school day for his players.
“I haven’t seen any tears from the players yet,” Malenfant said, joking, but he may have to deal with a shotgun start here and there as the season moves along.
Newburyport soccer left wing Connor Glynn is shedding no tears about early releases, but he does worry about the status of this year’s ALS Cup. Held under the lights at World War Memorial Stadium, the ALS Cup is the biggest soccer game of the season and may end up being just another day game this year.
“It’s kind of sad not being able to play under the lights my senior year,” says Glynn. “But it’s more important for me that we raise money for ALS. It’s obviously for a bigger cause than to just play a good soccer game.”
“You’ve got people who come to one soccer a game a year, and that’s what it is,” adds Langlois. “And if it doesn’t pan out, we’ll roll with it because it’s a part of what happens.”