Jillian Octeau (16) dribbles around Lincoln’s Sarah Leonetti (5) as Westerly teammate Madeline Faubert (10) watches on. The Westerly Bulldogs girls varsity soccer team hosted the Lincoln Lynx on Friday afternoon, September 6th, 2019 at Westerly High School’s Augeri Field. | Jackie L. Turner, Special to The Sun.

Jillian Octeau (16) dribbles around Lincoln’s Sarah Leonetti (5) as Westerly teammate Madeline Faubert looks on during a September 2019 girls soccer game. | Jackie L. Turner, Special to The Sun

Westerly High athletic director Jamey Vetelino and his counterpart at Chariho High, Mike Shiels, are anxious to begin planning the fall sports season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

They may not have to wait much longer.

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school sports in Rhode Island, has submitted a detailed plan to Gov. Gina Raimondo and is hoping for an answer soon.

The plan has general safety guidelines and rule modifications for all sports that could move them into a lower risk category and increase the likelihood they will be played in the fall.

Currently, the state is in Phase 3 of the coronavirus reopening plan through Sept. 28. Only girls and boys cross country, girls tennis and sideline cheering would be allowed in Phase 3, according to an RIIL plan announced in early August.

All other fall sports, football, boys and girls soccer, girls and unified volleyball, and field hockey would be moved to sometime between the traditional winter and spring seasons if the state remains in Phase 3.

Practice is now scheduled to begin Sept. 14, with the season starting Oct. 2.

"It is still our intent to work within this framework to allow every student athlete the best opportunity to participate in their chosen sport(s) during the school year," the RIIL said in an email to athletic directors and principals on Wednesday. "Based on our communications, we anticipate that an announcement on school sports guidance will be made in the coming days but at this time, we don’t know when. With respect to the amount of planning and preparation necessary to prepare for the fall season, we will be releasing a comprehensive document guiding each athletic department through a safe return to education-based athletics on Friday."

Vetelino and Shiels empathize with athletes, parents and coaches.

"I think student-athletes deserve as much as they can have while still maintaining safety," Vetelino said. "Be prepared, get your paperwork in on time and make sure you are ready. Know that our district is trying to provide all we can. It's really difficult to continually tell the same group of students and parents to please be patient."

Shiels was hoping to receive some guidance earlier this week.

"It's been very frustrating for students, coaches and parents. The RIIL is making modifications to sports," Shiels said. "We don't know what those modifications are, but they could drastically change the games. We will need to know soon."

The National Federation of State High School Associations has offered examples of modifications that could put a sport in a lower risk category. One example offered by the national group is making football 7 vs. 7 with no tackling and no linemen.

In Massachusetts, modifications already approved for soccer include playing games in four quarters, all players must wear face coverings during play, balls may not be intentionally headed, no contact can be made with opposing players and no slide tackles.

Since June 28, high school teams have had the option to conduct summer training sessions. Those sessions involve conditioning, sport-specific skill work and small intrasquad games for some sports. Those sessions can continue until Sept. 14.

The RIIL plan released in early August calls for all games to take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays once the fall season starts.

Shiels and Vetelino both serve on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association. The group has been meeting with RIIL executive director Mike Lunney and assistant director Tom Marcello to discuss different scenarios for the fall.

"I think there are ways we could accommodate multiple games on a weekend, like playing on a Friday and a Sunday," Shiels said. "I would tell students to work out on your own when you can and attend practices we are running for our sports."

Vetelino remains hopeful that the fall will be a productive one.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have more rather than less as long as it goes through all the levels of review," Vetelino said.

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