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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Tri County Voke Set To Resume Athletic Competition

Mar 01, 2021 10:48AM ● By Ken HAMWEY

The long wait is finally over.

Tri County Vocational High School will be competing in varsity sports during the Fall-2 season that got underway with pre-season practice on Feb. 22. Nine teams will begin play with reduced schedules and, for the most part, their opponents will be Mayflower League squads.

The Cougars have not participated in athletics for three consecutive seasons and that time-frame covers almost a year. 

Last spring, Tri County was unable to compete when the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) canceled all sports throughout the state because of the covid-19 pandemic. When the fall season approached, 15 of the 16 Mayflower League schools decided to move all autumn sports to the newly-created Fall-2 time-frame (West Bridgewater stood pat for the fall). Then, before the winter season started, Tri County canceled all sports because the school was moving 100 percent to in-person vocational instruction while academic learning remained fully remote.

The Cougars’ teams that will play in March and April include football, boys and girls soccer, volleyball, golf, boys and girls cross-country, cheerleading and boys ice hockey. 

“Sports will definitely return,’’ said Athletic Director Sara Martin at Local Town Pages deadline (Feb. 15). “But, one question remains with the weather. Take soccer for example. If it snows considerably, there’ll be no games because we don’t have artificial turf. And, most practices for Fall-2 will be inside.’’

Martin is hopeful the Fall-2 season will be a return to some degree of normalcy.

“The athletes have missed structured settings,’’ she said. “Now, they can reunite with their teammates and coaches. This year is about providing opportunities. We just want the kids to be able to compete and hopefully complete their schedules. I’d prefer that our teams  win but since we’re still battling the virus, this is a time to adhere to the changes and modifications that the MIAA requires.’’

The Fall-2 teams will be dealing with similar changes that were implemented for the fall and winter squads. They include wearing masks, socially distancing on the bench, using hand sanitizer, crowd limits, no locker-room presence and bus limits for athletes.

Although many schedules are complete, some are still undergoing changes and updates. Tri County’s Mayflower League opponents include Norfolk Agricultural, Southeastern Regional, Bristol-Plymouth, Old Colony, Diman Voke, Blue Hills Regional, Upper Cape Regional, Cape Cod Tech, Bristol Agricultural, South Shore Vocational, Avon, Bishop Connolly, Holbrook, West Bridgewater and Westport.

The league’s schools moved fall sports to March and April because they didn’t have specific answers to a variety of questions.

“The feeling was that we didn’t have a handle on the virus, like how far-reaching it would be,’’ Martin said. “We wanted to know more about contact-tracing and we needed answers to questions. Do the athletes need masks while running? Would masks hurt their oxygen level while competing. What happens when there’s contact with players who are sweating? If we erred, it was on the side of safety.’’

When the winter sports season was called off at Tri County, Martin filled the void with an intramural program and open skating at the Pirelli Veterans Arena rink.

“We started intramurals in mid-December,’’ she said. “The sports were boys and girls basketball, co-ed volleyball, indoor track and a strength and conditioning program. Each team got one day a week to practice and compete. We followed all the virus protocols and capped the numbers at any one time at 25. The key was to address social, emotional and physical needs.’’ 

Skating at the rink occurred on Tuesdays and Fridays in one-hour sessions from January to mid-February.

Martin, who teaches history (3-4 classes daily), is very adept at multi-tasking. She’s  often juggling in a variety of ways — with sports schedules, rotating gym-time practices, busing details and ensuring that monitors and a trainer are available. 

“For the Fall-2 season, I’ll be relying on our coaches and team leaders (captains) to be models for wearing masks, socially distancing and using hand sanitizer. Coaches will have to realize that practices during Fall-2 won’t be as plentiful as they were during normal times.’’

Now in her third year as the Cougars A.D., Martin is optimistic about the 2021-22 school year. She even uses the “normal’’ word when looking to the future. 

“I do see some normalcy,’’ she emphasized. “The vaccines will help and lessen anxiety and we’ll have a better handle on how to manage close contact. We now know more about how contagious the virus is. We’ll pick up in August at pre-season and masks likely will be used for awhile. With the focus on monitoring long-range conditions, everything can return to the way it was.’’

The personable Martin is quick to credit Tri County’s custodial staff and its vocational teachers for their prudence in adhering to the precautions to prevent the virus from spreading. “They’ve been in school all this time and it’s a testament to them that there hasn’t been any in-school infection or transmission of the virus,’’ she noted.

Martin also deserves some notice for the way she’s handled parental complaints,  student-athlete concerns and all the uncertainty that covid-19 has created.

“There’s been parental complaints, but for every negative opinion, we get about four positive ones,’’ she noted. “Some parents call and ask how they can help. Students express disappointment when their sport is delayed. Some think we’re not pro-active but we have to wait for guidance from the MIAA, the Executive Office of Energy and Environment, the leagues, the school superintendent, the Board of Health and the School Committee.’’

Martin said she’s heard athletes express excitement about the Fall-2 season. And, it all centers around competing again. “The hockey players are glad they can play in March and April, and football players in January said ‘football is just a month away.’ I certainly understand the frustration they’ve had to endure.’’

Tri County athletes have been on the sidelines for almost a year. But, that situation is about to change. Martin hopes the pandemic will fade in the future and her comments on that front are very telling.

“When its grip is loosened or greatly reduced, my emotions will be relief and pride,’’ Martin said. “When August rolls around and all the athletes are sweating and exhausted at practices, we can all look back and say we’ve grown and that we appreciate our opportunities more.’’