With the pause coming to an end Sunday night, coupled with no changes made to the R.I. Youth Sports Guidelines regarding the winter sports lineup the Interscholastic League was planning on rolling out, the league announced Friday that member schools may begin practicing on Monday, Jan. 4 in basketball, gymnastics, hockey, indoor track & field, and swimming.

The RIIL’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics approved the new start date at a meeting earlier this week.

All winter sports continue to fall in the category of either low or moderate risk. Those categorized as moderate risk include group sports or sports that involve close contact. Basketball and hockey are two examples of moderate-risk activity. Low-risk sports include field events that are part of a track meet.

The Interscholastic League planned to meet with principals and athletic directors on Monday morning. Later that same day, coaches had the chance to ask questions of league officials about the modifications that will need to be adhered to in order to safely navigate through arguably the trickiest stretch of the four-season model that was implemented for the 2020-21 school term.

“It’s not only about training and educating. We’ve got to get feedback, too,” said Mike Lunney, Interscholastic League executive director.

Indoor sports facility operations is subject to capacity limits of up to 66 percent, or one person per 100 square feet. For those wondering what this means in terms of fans, RIDOH laid out that indoor sporting facilities that allow leagues and organizations who have players under the age of 18 may allow a maximum of two parents or guardians for the athlete and the athlete’s siblings provided the facility does not exceed its current allowable capacity and is large enough to ensure a minimum of six feet of physical distancing between spectators.

What this means in terms of Interscholastic League events that take place on school grounds and off-campus sites such as hockey rinks and the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house still needs to be ironed out.

“We’ve got to work through the options that are available to us,” said Lunney. “Anyone who’s ready to go [on Jan. 4] can go. I don’t think there will be any changes to that.”

What the guidelines did not provide is clearance for the RIIL and other leagues to play games. The anticipation of attaching a schedule figures to depend on how the state’s COVID-19 numbers look once the holidays have passed.

Best-case scenario is that league play would begin no earlier than Friday, January 15 if teams start practicing on Jan. 4.

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