Super Bowl-winning coaches adjust to fall without football

Super Bowl-winning coaches adjust to fall without football

Woonsocket High senior fullback Logan Coles, left, and junior quarterback Tarik Robinson-O’Hagan will have to wait until next spring for their team’s football season to take place. The Villa Novans are returning to Division I after winning the last two D-II Super Bowl championships.
Four-season model for school year pushes ‘high-risk’ sports to spring

WOONSOCKET – After watching his football team capture the last two Division II Super Bowl championships, Woonsocket High head coach Charlie Bibeault was eagerly looking forward to this fall because he wanted to see how his Villa Novans would fare in their return to the state’s top division after a three-year absence.

The same can be said for North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles co-op head coach Wes Pennington, who after watching his team capture its program's first Division IV title last fall, was awaiting the challenge of playing in this year's D-III ranks.

Unfortunately for Bibeault, Pennington, and high school football coaches and players throughout the state, their seasons are going to take a timeout until next February.

In a press release issued by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League last Friday afternoon, the fall’s three “high-risk” sports, football, girls’ volleyball, and unified volleyball, will return to action in the form of a “Season 3” during a four-season model that the RIIL will adopt for the 2020-21 school year because of the pandemic.

As for the other fall sports – boys’ and girls’ cross country, girls’ tennis, cheerleading, boys’ and girls’ soccer, and field hockey – they were given the green light to proceed with their seasons – with yet-to-be-named safety modifications – last Friday during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s 1 p.m. press conference.

The four-season model closely mirrors the format that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is using. The MIAA scheduled its “Fall 2” season between its winter and spring seasons, and it will begin workouts in the final week of February and hold its games and matches during the months of March and April.

As for staring at a calendar year without football, “it’s tough for everyone,” said Bibeault. “It’s uncharted territory for all of us. I know the kids are heartbroken, as well as us coaches. Our kids work tirelessly all year around and it’s shown with our success.

“What we do with our program is a lot bigger than football, so for kids not to have that family, love, and brotherhood environment is extremely tough,” he added. “We’ve told them all along that this was a possibility, but it doesn’t make the news any easier, so now we’ll just prioritize our academics even more than before and try to be optimistic, because if (the coaches) act bummed out, the kids will take it even harder.”

"It is disappointing not to be playing football this fall," added Pennington. "It seems unnatural, and I find myself a little lost at times. But the kids are taking it well. At least they will get to play football before the end of the school year. This is great for the seniors, who I really feel bad for."

Pennington looks at last Friday's announcement as a "reset" and noted that "we are acting as if we were starting to prepare for next year, and we have an opportunity to get stronger in the weight room." And with the season getting moved to next spring, "there is also a chance to get a few more players, as you know with a small school, with soccer and football, it puts a toll on available boys to play sports," he added. "But with this, there are a couple of soccer players which could help us be more competitive."

"We just have to learn to make something good out of something bad," Pennington continued. "This is also a great learning tool for the boys. They are learning that life can throw you curves, and we must be willing to adapt and overcome those curves."

As for last Friday’s press release, it also reported that the Principals’ Committee on Athletics voted to move the start date of fall sports from next Monday to Monday, Sept. 21, and extend the summer coaches’ contact period to next Sunday.