COVID-19 Rears Ugly Head in High School Winter Sports Finales

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – The Hazen Union girls’ basketball team’s first round loss to Mount St. Joseph’s Academy (MSJ) in the first round of the Division IV playoffs two weeks ago seemed ordinary within the Vermont high school tournament landscape at the time. Multiple COVID-19 tests that have ensued since, however, has robbed entire teams of a chance to play for a state title, as well as put the start of Hazen Union’s upcoming spring sports schedule in jeopardy. 

Following MSJ’s first-round win over Hazen Union on March 16 and second-round loss to West Rutland on March 19, MSJ reported that a member of their basketball team had tested positive for COVID-19. Vermont Principal’s Association (VPA) virus protocols mandate that team members in close contact must quarantine for seven days and have a negative test before returning to competition.

Top-seeded West Rutland was forced to play their semifinal matchup with Danville on March 23 with five eighth graders and four freshmen, inevitably falling 44-22. Subsequent positive tests within the Danville program forced them to withdraw from the Division IV state title game against Proctor and, through VPA protocols set up before the start of the season, Proctor was crowned state champions.

Had the Lady Cats defeated MSJ in the first round, they would have been forced to bow out of the tournament as they, too, had a member of their team test positive.

Similar circumstances happened in the Division I girls’ state title game when Rice was forced to withdraw and BFA-St. Albans was crowned state champions. None of the high school boys’ championships were affected, but it is unknown whether or not the Hazen Union boys’ program would have been able to advance had they defeated Enosburg in their quarterfinal matchup on March 20. Hazen Union has currently had five positive COVID-19 tests since the third week of March and has gone back to remote learning.

“Overall, for our programs to get half of our games in with such a delayed start is pretty amazing,” said Hazen Union athletic director John Sperry. “Our kids and coaches have done a great job of following protocols throughout the season and I’m glad they got a chance to compete and have some sense of normalcy. You definitely feel for some of these teams that got so close to the finish line and were derailed. It just shows us that we have to continue to be vigilant and not let our guard down if we want the kids to have a chance to compete,” said Sperry. 

Hazen’s baseball program is scheduled to start their season on April 17, but they must get 10 team practices in first. Practices are currently on pause during remote learning. When the season does get underway, fans will be allowed to attend this spring as long as they wear masks and social distance six feet apart.

“We are currently in a holding pattern and hopefully we can get everyone back to school safely sooner than later. We hope we can start the season on time, but with COVID-19 and unpredictable spring weather it will be tight. It will be nice to see parents and fans be able to attend games again, but it is important that we are all following the protocols as religiously as the student athletes are,” said Sperry.

Several high school hockey championships around the state were also affected on both the girls’ and boys’ side.