Westerly’s Mikayla Sousa (5) works the ball upfield while Lincoln’s Riley Specht (13) defends. 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.

Westerly’s Mikayla Sousa works the ball upfield during a September 2019 girls soccer game. | Jackie L. Turner, Special to The Sun

Just in time for this week’s in-school coaching period for fall sports only, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League has released an 18-page document that spells out the sport-specific modifications for all sports on tap this fall.

The safety precautions were emailed to athletic directors Sunday and posted to www.riil.org on Monday.

Mapping out a document of important guidance took shape prior to Gov. Gina Raimondo giving her blessing for soccer, cross-country, field hockey, tennis and sideline cheer. After multiple meetings with different parties — the state's Department of Environmental Management, Department of Health, Department of Education and the RIIL’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee — the league received the green light to share the COVID-19 safety guidelines that member schools are required to implement and utilize.

For those wondering, the safety measures that were put in place will not have any direct bearing on the rules of the game or how each game is typically played.

Taking all the sports in one fell swoop, student-athletes regardless of the sport must wear masks during games, matches and meets. Each sport features stipulations, however, that will enable the participants to enjoy a respite from covering their mouth and nose while competing.

Besides the face-covering requirement, fall sports head coaches are required to sign a pledge that signifies that he or she will adhere to RIIL policy. Before, the league only required principals from the member schools to sign the pledge.

The league is scheduled to hold virtual calls with athletic directors and coaches in the coming days. In the interim, let’s break down where each sport stands from a health and safety standpoint with less than three weeks to go before the season begins.

Cross country

For now, the days of watching runners take off simultaneously from the starting line are on ice. Staggered or interval starts are being encouraged in an effort to prevent big numbers from gathering in one specific space.

For dual meets that feature four or fewer teams, the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of 12 participants per team. Some courses might need to be adjusted per the league’s desire to have at least 200 yards between the start and the narrowing point while widening the course by an additional 6 feet.

Runners must wear a mask at the start of the race and at any time when they are within 6 feet of another runner but may pull it down when there is more than 6 feet between them and others.

Field hockey

If there’s 10 feet or greater between players, athletes may momentarily take a brief face-covering break. Game balls must be wiped down or sprayed with appropriate disinfecting products by the game administrator at the beginning of the contest, during timeouts, at halftime and at the end of the game.

In an effort to minimize contact, four additional game balls can be placed behind each goal. Players and coaches will not gather to shake hands after the final whistle.


Similar to field hockey’s code of conduct regarding face masks, tennis must also adhere to the 10-feet-or-greater rule. It stands to reason that those participating in singles matches will be allowed face-covering relief. Since they’ll be standing in close proximity to a teammate, doubles players will have to wait until there’s a break in the action before having the chance to pull their mask down.

Upon the conclusion of play, tennis balls used in the match will receive appropriate disinfectant sprays. The use of new balls is strongly encouraged with players expected to serve their own tennis balls throughout the match. Each ball will be marked accordingly based on the match — No. 1 singles, No. 1 doubles, etc.

Sideline cheer

Not allowed: Cheer stunts, lifts and pyramids. Ditto for hugs, shaking hands and fist bumps. Crowd-leading props (signs, pom-poms) can’t be shared. As a group, cheerleaders must always keep a healthy distance away from game participants and spectators. Masks must be worn if the cheerleaders are standing less than 6 feet apart from each other during activity.


A mandatory two-minute hydration/mask break will be taken at the first dead-ball situation after the 20-minute mark of each half. The default expectation is that masks will be on except when there’s 10 or more feet between each player.

Previous situations that required a dropped ball will now feature an indirect kick that’s to be awarded to the team deemed to be in possession at the time of the stoppage.

Whenever play is halted, athletes and coaches should use their feet to pass the ball rather than picking up and throwing it. Game balls will be wiped down before the game, during timeouts, at halftime and after the final whistle. Like field hockey, there won’t be any postgame handshakes.

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