Nearly two weeks ago, Rhode Island high schools were cleared to start its winter sports season — for Boys and Girls Basketball, Indoor Track and Field, Hockey, and Swim — but it hadn’t been decided when (or if) competition would happen. On Wednesday, athletes received the good news that they could start playing games by Friday, Jan. 22.
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) made the announcement after collaboration and discussion with the Department of Health and state officials.
“It’s been a long process,” RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney said Wednesday. “We were just as ecstatic when we got the permission to start practicing.”
This coming Saturday, EG Boys Basketball and Hockey will be playing their first games. The Boys Basketball team will play Coventry, and the Hockey team will play Burrillville. Also on Saturday, EG Indoor Track is expected to have its first meet at Providence Career & Technical Academy (PCTA).
With COVID restrictions and a shortened season, there’s no doubt that games will look different this year. Still, this is a big step for RI sports, especially considering the fact that six states still haven’t allowed high school sports at all during the pandemic.
Though team have been spending the last couple weeks practicing, players and coaches agree that practice doesn’t compare to an actual game.
“It’s a little different,” said Don Bowen, the Boys Basketball coach. “You need to play another opponent to gauge where you are. And I think practicing against each other gets old for a while — a little stale.”
“As a senior, those final games of a season are what you remember, “ said basketball player Maya Barnes. “I’m definitely hoping that’ll be something the rest of the seniors and I can experience this year.”
“The practices are not just practices anymore,” said hockey coach Don Dunwoody. ”There’s a purpose for our practicing — which is competition — which is why we play sports. We’ve been practicing with the expectation that we would play.”
While student athletes are happy to be able to compete against other schools, many find it tough to play with the countless guidelines and changes.
Track and Field is no longer happening indoors, meaning athletes have to get used to running outside every day.
“We used to run in the hallways for indoor track, “ said senior Olivia LaHue, “which was pretty nice because we have long hallways, and it was warm. But now, we have to practice outside . . . and it can be uncomfortable sometimes because of how cold it gets.”
Another downside is the limited numbers of runners at meets.
“Some of my teammates will not be able to compete this season because of the limited number of runners,” said senior Katie Huntley. “We’re only allowed to have three athletes compete per event, and 25 athletes total.”
“Not everyone is allowed to compete – priority will be given to varsity runners and seniors – so unfortunately many JV runners aren’t able to officially compete,” said junior Saloni Jain.
A change for all sports this season is that no spectators are allowed at any meets or games.
“It just feels strange,” said senior Jessie Martin, “to be racing on the track when it’s so quiet and there is no energy from the crowd giving you added adrenaline to run as hard as you can.”
For now, swim meets are being held virtually – which is an experience quite different from what meets used to look like.
Because of the virtual meets, said senior Grace Sheridan, “races come down to the finishes so often.”
“It does not feel like a swim meet,” said senior Natalia Oganesian. “It just feels like we are practicing our dives.”
Even with all the changes, students say they also have things to look forward to.
“We are grateful that we still get to train together every day and compete as a team,” said Martin. “It’s great to see everyone come together and still have fun, even though we don’t have ideal conditions.”
“I’m really hopeful for a good season,” said senior Genevieve Cava. “We gained a few really strong female swimmers in particular, and our girls team is looking very strong for a D1 team.”
“[Track] is honestly still an amazing experience and a great way to safely hang out with friends and train together,” said Jain.
“I am tremendously grateful [that] we get a season of some sort,” said senior Sofia Bianco. “I’ve been playing basketball with the other seniors on the team for seven years through EGBA and high school. I am really excited to be captain with all of them and finish out my basketball career with them and the team.”
“Though we know the basketball season will be significantly shorter . . . I’m hopeful the basketball team will get the same chance to play a great season like my soccer team did,” said Barnes.
“We are super excited the RIIL and government [are] allowing us to play this year,” said Spencer Hallagan, a senior on the hockey team. “We’re definitely going to be playing with a lot of energy, [especially] after being stripped of the opportunity to compete for a championship last year.”
“We’re a Division I program” – they moved up this year. ”We’re ready to go,” Dunwoody said of the hockey team. “[RIIL has] now turned the switch to an ‘on’ position, so we can play. We’re grateful to have the ability to play.”
This season, members of the track team are selling cookies to fundraise for their team. Each box costs $20 and includes frozen cookie dough for 40 cookies. If you’d like to support the fundraiser, you can do so HERE.
Aiza Shaikh, a senior at EGHS, has been an EG resident since 2008. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and eating coffee ice cream.