June 16, 2024

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COVID may have altered Stoughton’s sports strategy, but game’s still on

Mary Ellen Gambon
 |  Wicked Local

Stoughton High School Athletic Director Ryan Donahue had to strategize a whole new series of game plans as the Winter and new Fall 2 seasons challenge his teams during the second year of COVID-19.

“We are in constant communication,” Donahue said. “Now we are transitioning to having school five days a week instead of having that complete remote day on Wednesday. The amount of work that goes into cleaning and safeguarding the schools is incredible. We’re doing the best we can.”

The Stoughton school community was hard hit by the coronavirus during the week of Jan. 14-20, with 10 new cases reported.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, shifting schedules and the psychological strains on their families and social lives, Donahue said his athletes have responded in heroic fashion.

“Even playing sports with masks on has been a very big adjustment,” he said. “Not only comfort-wise, but respiratory-wise. You run the full length of the field, and it’s hard enough without a mask on. They have all really done a nice job of trying to abide by that.”

He joked that he never envisioned part of his role being “the six-foot distance, mask policeman,” but pandemic times call for everyone to step up their game in unique ways.

Athletes fill out attendance forms through QR codes attesting to their health status. This also is the practice for the two in-house members who can attend basketball games.

A situation recently arose when a parent traveled from out of state to see his child play, but had not been in Massachusetts long enough to quarantine and therefore could not come to the event.

“I would love to let this person in,” Donahue said. “But if you haven’t been living in the house, I don’t know what else to tell you.”

To accommodate Black Knight fans, Donahue has tried taping games himself to livestream, but admits he is “not an AV guy.”

“To do it safely and securely and to not have people comment ruthless things – it’s a lot,” he said. “But everyone’s making adjustments.”

The ultimate goal this season, according to Donahue, is to promote the athletes in the best light.

“These kids need as much positive reinforcement as they can get,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of groups that have had to quarantine already, but now they are back on track.”

The seasons are shorter now, which is an additional hurdle. But the playoffs are on the horizon.

The Fall 2 season starts on Feb. 22. This is when football is scheduled to hit the gridiron.

“The one thing that is constant is that we can’t count on anything to happen,” Donahue said.  “That’s one thing we learned from last year. We must have re-done the baseball, softball, lacrosse and track and field schedules, let’s call it seven times each, only to never play. Now we build in flexibility because we just don’t know. The first football game is scheduled for March 12, but there might be snow on the ground.

“I don’t know if there has been a crazier time, certainly in our lifetime. I think we’re knocking on the door of the craziest time in history.”

However, after being in the position for 12 years, Donahue has been able to juggle the challenges with grace. This year, he is in charge of about 400 athletes over four seasons, rather than nearly 500 over three seasons. This may present multi-talented students with unique opportunities.

“For example,” Donahue said, “if I was a really good wrestler and I also loved basketball, I ended up picking wrestling for my whole high school career. Now I can play basketball and potentially wrestle later this year. That’s a silver lining for sure.”

This may be a game plan in the future, although people are looking for some stability post-COVID.

“With our athletic fee being so reasonable, we are encouraging kids to be multiple season, multiple sport athletes,” Donahue said. “It’s really all about showcasing the best that Stoughton has to offer.”

While this year has been challenging, everyone has learned to pick up the ball – or stick or baton – and run with it.

“You just try to take things a day at a time and try not to stress over things that are out of your control,” he said. “When I first started out, I used to stress about the weather. While we haven’t had to face that this season, I approach COVID the same way. You try to take it day by day. But some days, you have to be proactive, and you have to frontload if you have to adjust. My mentality is to give the best effort that you have and to communicate well with everybody.”