The COVID-19 pandemic certainly slowed down the world in 2020—and brought the sports world to a halt. Student-athletes wondered what their seasons would look like, if they even happened at all. Over the course of the summer, as Brewster and other boarding schools were trying to figure out plans to safely reopen, their athletic departments were devising ways to have interscholastic athletics responsibly. Brewster, along with other Lakes Region schools—New Hampton, St. Paul’s, Holderness, Proctor, Tilton, Vermont Academy, and Kimball Union—all competed in a seven-week fall season. Notably, it was the only independent school league to do so this year. The schools competed in soccer, field hockey, cross country, mountain biking, and (for some) football. Competitions were held on weekends only and the season was shortened, but as the season concluded last week, it was deemed a success by all.
“Putting the season together took a lot of planning and organizing, but it was definitely worth it,” noted Brewster’s Director of Athletics Matt Lawlor. “As a league, we had a plan and put protocols in place in order to keep everyone safe the best we could, and it was great to see it all come together!”
The plan rolled out in three phases. The first phase was holding practices with masks on and non-contact drills while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Phase two introduced contact drills and allowed for practices to run longer. Phase three brought in full-fledged practices that allowed players to remove masks when competing on the field (coaches, officials, and players on sidelines had masks on at all times). These phases spanned four weeks, so by the first weekend in October, the Lakes Region League kicked off its season, ending fall sports the weekend of November 14. Of course, throughout the season, symptom checks and COVID-19 testing were front and center, along with strict precautions on dedicated, disinfected changing spaces for visiting teams. Perhaps the hardest restriction for parents was the no outside spectators rule. To help soften that blow, schools tried their best to livestream games and share game day photos with visiting teams.
“I was just so impressed with how the League came together and followed the protocols so we could all have the season,” said Lawlor of this unprecedented collaboration brought on by the pandemic. “And I was incredibly proud of the Brewster players and coaches who stuck to the plan. It was not easy at times, but the time put in was worthwhile.
Lawlor, who, along with Head of School Craig Gemmell, was lauded by many coaches for leading the charge on a safe season of play at Brewster’s virtual fall athletics awards ceremony, added, “We had four weeks of practice before competing, and the energy on the fields during those weeks was incredible. Our students were just enjoying being together, competing in the activity they love, and having fun. And that is what high school athletics is all about!”
As with any athletic season, there were some challenges over the fall, but the League administrators stayed the course and collaborated on all decisions. “The Athletic Directors and Heads of School really worked well together,” Lawlor said. “In our weekly meetings we had to discuss some difficult topics and make some hard decisions, but it was fun to work together as a League so closely. I think it made our relationships as schools even stronger. We have some great people in leadership positions in our League and I was fortunate to be a part of it and learn from them.”
Brewster’s Bobcats played more than 50 athletic contests and had some notable accomplishments. Twenty-eight kids participated in the Girls’ Junior Varsity Soccer team, which finished its season undefeated. The Girls’ Varsity Soccer team had a perfect record as well and did not give up a single goal; outscoring their opponents 17-0! The Boys’ Varsity Soccer team also went unbeaten and finished with a 5-0-1 record, while Field Hockey had more than 40 players in the program—the most they have had in the program in recent years. Additionally, due to the new League schedule, the Cross Country team had four home meets (they usually only have one per year).
“As challenging as this pandemic is for everyone, there can be a silver lining somewhere, and for athletics, I saw our Brewster students just enjoying being able to play,” said Lawlor. “If anything, our students understand the importance of high school athletics and the role it plays in their education. I am just glad the Lakes Region League and Brewster were able to deliver that for them!”
Brewster and the Lakes Region League schools are in the process of rolling out a winter season, sticking as much as possible to the successful formula used this fall. “The winter brings some different challenges, but we have a plan,” said Lawlor. “We are a ways away from officially starting the season, but I feel good about the outline we have in place to bring athletics to our students again. It’s just exciting to be able to contribute. Because at the end of the day, it’s about delivering the best experience to the students.”
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