Hopes rise for a six-week season as winter practices start

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

Champlain Valley Union High School student athletes got a surprise right before winter break. 

Gov. Phil Scott announced on Dec. 22 that schools could resume non-contact, socially distanced practice starting Dec. 26, allowing the winter sports season to very slowly get started. 

“I was shocked to be honest,” said Dan Shepardson, CVU activities director. “It gave the kids and the coaches, but the kids especially — for those who celebrate — an early Christmas present and something to look forward to.

“It was a huge surprise and very well received by everybody.” 

Shepardson left the decision of when to begin practices up to coaches, allowing training plans, ice time and holiday schedules to determine when each program was ready to get going. As of Monday, all sports had begun practices. 

“We made it clear to the coaches that this has nothing to do with tryouts,” Shepardson said. “They couldn’t put any pressure on kids to show up.”

While ice hockey, basketball and gymnastics balance space in the gym/rink with the amount of players and skills they can work on, Nordic and alpine skiing are getting outside and hitting the snow. 

Coaches plan to focus on strength, conditioning and specific skills while they wait for the state to take the next step for the winter sports season.

While teams would love to jump into full practices and games, Shepardson said the extra time to focus on skills and conditioning is a silver lining to the slow start. Coaches can focus on the fundamentals and athletes can get in game shape. 

“It’s needed,” Shepardson said, “both for the physical conditioning part and the mental and emotional health part of it. Even if they played a fall sport, it has now been a couple of months. I think it’s been a real blessing, both for the kids and for the coaches.” 

A decision about starting games is expecting be announced in the coming weeks. 

“My personal best guess is that the first week of February we will start games, which would give us a six-week season,” said Shepardson. “If we can actually do that, that’d be wonderful.”