State News

Winter sport athletes, coaches practice amid uncertainty

By Katy Savage

Coaches and athletes are navigating a challenging season since Gov. Phil Scott gave winter sports the green light to start practicing Dec. 26. Scott didn’t announce when or if competitions could begin.

Some sports are more affected than others. High-contact sports, like wrestling, can’t practice at all, while cheerleaders can’t practice vocal routines or stunting.

Cara Gauvin, the coach of the six-time D-1 state champion Rutland High School cheerleading team, said she was looking forward to bringing her athletes together again. “I think the kids need it — mentally, physically and emotionally — kids need some sense of normalcy,” she said.

But cheerleading won’t feel the same with the practice limitations.

Gauvin’s daughter Baylee Austin, a senior cheerleader at Rutland, said the lack of stunting “makes us look more like a gymnastics team, which is upsetting. It takes away the main part of cheerleading.”

Still, Austin said practicing gives her the chance to see teammates she hasn’t seen this year. “You get into a routine instead of being at home all the time,” Austin said.

Gauvin still expects the team to be successful by focusing on tumbling routines. She said she plans to use recorded cheers in music.

“Every team is going to have their struggles,” Gauvin said.

This will be the second year in a row Covid-19 has impacted winter sports.

Kim Peters, the superintendent of the Rutland Recreation and Parks Dept., said the pandemic has made it difficult to plan sports schedules. She’s navigated unusual scheduling only to have her plans canceled three times since the pandemic started.

Basketball clinics at Rutland Rec had a brief start this season before the governor announced all winter sports practices needed to stop a week later.  Basketball clinics resumed last week.

“There are so many unknowns,” Peters said.

Peters said she was disappointed by the governor’s announcement not to sanction wrestling. Last year, Ruland Rec’s youth wrestling team made it to its first tournament in Springfield before it was shut down.

“It was extremely disappointing for kids,” Peters said. “Wrestling is not an expensive sport, it’s great for kids that don’t fit into a team.”

Rutland Rec has 60 students in grades K-4 who participate in the wrestling program. Peters hoped the program would feed high school programs, which have seen a decline in athletes.

“We were working toward that,” Peters said. “It’s a huge bummer. You look around at other states and they are allowing wrestling.”

Peters said Rutland Rec may offer summer wrestling programs.   “We’re hesitant about offering too much right now,” Peters said. “Right now, the athletes — both youth and high school — we’re just waiting. It’s such a waiting game.”

Sam Worthing, a senior at Fair Haven Union High School, who won the 132-pound wrestling state championship last year, was disappointed not to be able to practice his sport his last year of high school.

“Wrestling is a very high-contact sport,” Worthing acknowledged. “But I believe there should at least be practices.”

Fair Haven wrestling coach Scott Shaddock said he’s sending his athletes videos to keep them active with online instruction.

“I’m not happy about it at all,” Shaddock said of the orders.

Shaddock also mentioned that wrestling teams were practicing in nearby states. Shaddock noted Worthing specifically and was concerned how he’d be recruited to colleges without the potential of earning a second state title this year.

“A two-time state champion is better than a one-time state champion,” Shadduck said.

Like other teams, Shaddock’s unsure what the rest of the season will look like. “The biggest problem we’re having is lack of communication,” he said.

Shaddock said wrestling is low contact compared to other sports, which can have multiple people in a field or on a court.  “When you get on the mat, it’s you and one other person,” he said.

Shaddock said he might petition to hold wrestling in the spring.

“We’re just hoping this doesn’t hurt our sport,” he said.

Rutland High School Athletic Director Mike Norman said he’s used to the changes. “We’ve been at this for a while, everyday is a new day,” he said.

Norman, who also coaches football, said the pandemic has made him reflect on the fundamentals of sports and the reasons to participate simply for love of the game.

“Having something is better than nothing,” Norman said. “I think [students] are just happy to practice with their friends.”

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