WEST NEWBURY — All Pentucket Regional School District students, including those who opted to begin the school year in a fully remote learning model, will be allowed to participate in athletics following a 7-1 vote by the School Committee on Tuesday.

Following weeks of discussion at the state level and within the Cape Ann League, Pentucket Athletic Director Dan Thornton announced that the fall sports season will begin Friday with field hockey, soccer, golf and cross-country.

"We are sitting in the middle of September and it doesn't seem like it, but we'd be a month into the athletic season in a normal year, and this certainly is not normal," Thornton said.

Thornton said teams will have to be "a little creative" with how athletics can take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Athletes will practice in "pods," or small groups they will stick with throughout the season, to prevent a large spread if there is a COVID-19 outbreak. They will also have assigned seats on buses, which will remain the same throughout the season.

Thornton said there will not be temperature checks for every athlete because the district is already under the assumption that students will be checking their symptoms before they come to school anyway. If an athlete is not feeling well, the school nurse or trainer may look into any concerns.

Though the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association said districts could have up to 50% capacity in their locker rooms, Pentucket has opted to keep its locker rooms closed for now, according to Thornton.

He said there will not be any benches on the field during practices because the district wants to prevent any congregating of people. Benches will return for games, but people will still be asked to respect social distancing.

Though teams are typically placed on one side of the field with fans on the opposite side, each team will be on separate sides of the field this year, Thornton said.

For at least the first two weeks, Pentucket will not allow spectators at games. If fans are allowed in the future, Thornton said the district would have to figure out some way to make note of every person who attends so contact tracing can be done if needed.

All playing fields will have a limit of 25 people at a time, so practices would have to be scheduled accordingly to exceed that number, Thornton explained.

All athletes will have to keep their personal items in a backpack or gym bag at all times, and all bags will be spaced about six to 10 feet apart.

There will be no team huddles, handshakes, fist bumps or high fives. All athletes will be required to wear masks and sanitize their hands as much as possible.

Richard Hodges was the only committee member who voted against allowing fully remote students to participate in athletics.

"I've never been terribly in favor of 100% remote, but I respect the parents' decisions on behalf of their kids' safety to go remote 100%, I get that," he said in explanation. "What I don't understand is if you as a parent have already decided to go 100% remote because of health issues, why would you compromise that on some athletic field?"

Committee member Emily Dwyer responded by saying some families made the decision for their child to go fully remote for reasons other than underlying health conditions. She said some families preferred a consistent schedule for their child, rather than the hybrid model.

Committee member Bill Buell was absent for the vote.

Also at the meeting, Chairwoman Dena Trotta said the committee will review and vote on whether to retire the Sachem mascot next month. She cited reopening schools during a pandemic as the reason for delaying this vote, which originally was slated to take place this month.

To watch the full meeting, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykFP6GkI-7A&t=2s.

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