The parameters for what figures to be the most challenging season of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s four-season approach for 2020-21 are starting to take a more definite shape.

With COVID-19 continuing to pack a potent punch, it’s best to remember that the merry-go-round can stop at a moment's notice. Just because the wheels are turning doesn’t mean that it’s all systems go as far as winter sports are concerned. Things are subject to change — sometimes with little notice.

At Monday’s meeting of the Principals’ Committee of Athletics, it was recommended and unanimously approved to shift the start date of winter sports from the traditional Monday after Thanksgiving to Friday, Dec. 11. That date for players and coaches involved in basketball, hockey, indoor track and field, gymnastics and swimming to begin practicing is contingent upon factors that are beyond the league’s control.

If Gov. Gina Raimondo decides to follow through on the statewide shutdown that she’s been hinting at in recent weeks, all winter sports-related discussion by the PCOA on Monday will be rendered to nothing more than a footnote. In terms of the here-and-now, it should be encouraging that the governor’s office has given the RIIL permission to have most winter sports in 2020-21.

For now, the league is going forward under the assumption that jump shots will be taken and pucks will be fired.

“We think [Dec. 11] is a good date to go off based on the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Mike Lunney, RIIL executive director. “Hopefully we can get our teams started in stable groups with the hope that things will stabilize so we can get into our competition as soon as possible.”

Under the Phase 3 guidance for youth sports, which the RIIL falls under, low- and moderate-risk sports are allowed to play games. For the winter, the green light has been awarded to basketball, hockey, indoor track and field, gymnastics and swimming.

High-risk sports are cleared to only conduct practice sessions. In the winter, wrestling and competitive cheer fall under said category.

The league is close to releasing specific sport modifications. Given the governor’s continued request for folks to wear masks when in public, it should be expected that all winter sports except swimming will be required to abide by some form of mask-wearing compliance when competing.

The league is also working on specific-sport schedules while coordinating availability with ice rinks, swim facilities and the Providence Career & Technical Academy for indoor track usage. There is also the matter of schools such as St. Raphael that have transformed their home gymnasiums into an additional classroom.

“There are some challenges that we have to overcome, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Lunney said.

At this point, no league games will be scheduled any earlier than Friday, Jan. 8. An email from Track and Field Director Keith Lawton hinted at a seven-week track season that would begin the weekend of Jan. 9 and conclude the weekend of Feb. 20.

“With the uncertainty, we didn’t want to put league games prior to January 1 and then have to adjust from there,” Lunney said after Monday’s meeting. “If there’s clearance, teams are certainly welcome to get their nonleague games in.”

In terms of allowing fans inside to attend winter events, Middletown High athletic director/RIIAAA president Karen Massaro recommended Monday that it might not be a bad idea to look into implementing a statewide policy that would come in handy for fans traveling to away games.

“These next few weeks are going to be a very critical time with a lot of changes we have to adjust to,” Lunney told the PCOA. “We’re moving forward, which I think is a good thing.”

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