Ed Kensik for Montclair Local
Montclair Kimberley Academy athletics is going a step further in the battle against COVID-19.
Starting Friday, Jan. 29, all MKA athletes and coaches will be required to wear masks at all times during practices and games. The lone exceptions are for swimmers in the water and for athletes who have underlying health conditions that do not allow them to wear masks, the school announced.
The move comes after other schools throughout New Jersey announced they have either suspended or shut down athletics for the winter season.
“As many of you know and have seen there has been an extraordinary amount of schools and winter athletic teams that have already been forced to shut down or have suspended operations for COVID-related issues,” MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith said in a press release announcing the move. “It is an unfortunate situation, but everyone knew that indoor interscholastic competition was going to be a challenge throughout the tri-state region this winter.”
Smith added that MKA had been keeping an eye on high school athletic programs in the state that were missing time because of COVID-19.
“We decided that we needed to be proactive and do whatever we can for the overall safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and the MKA community as a whole,” he said.
Montclair High School and Immaculate Conception High School are not requiring masks while students are competing on the field or court, according to their athletic directors. MHS AD Patrick Scarpello said his school has not considered it, while ICHS AD Ryan Horan said that school is not requiring masks, but has recommended them to its athletes.
“Since it is not a state mandate, we will not require it,” Horan said. “I think the boys basketball team might actually do it.”
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has not mandated masks while competing. The NJSIAA requires masks on the bench, at the scorer’s table and for coaches. Players are required to wear masks during warm-ups.
One hurdle many schools face for something like what MKA is doing is cost. Even for private schools, a new mask every game for every player and coach can be expensive.
MKA was able to overcome that with a deal it made with UnderArmour for 200 facial sports masks that will be distributed to every athlete and coach for free and arrive on Friday, Jan. 29.
“Our hope is that this new practice and game-day protocol will provide an added layer of safety and protection for all of our athletes and coaches,” Smith said.
MKK boys basketball head coach Tony Jones said he knows how important this move is, especially since he will not be on the sidelines until late February because of underlying health conditions.
“I think it is definitely good and helps prevent transmission of the virus,” Jones said. “I think anything that helps keep the kids on the floor is a positive.”
MKA ice hockey head coach Tim Cook agrees.
“Anything that might give a little more protection from the virus, and secondly allow us to play one more day of hockey, is good with me,” Cook said. “We just want our players to be as safe as possible and get as many days as they can to compete.”
And that is the theme in terms of keeping the MKA athletes playing during the winter season.
“MKA has always had one goal when it came to sports this year,” Smith said. “To do everything we can to provide a healthy and safe environment for all of our student-athletes, coaches and the MKA community at large and to do everything we can to give our athletes an opportunity to play this season.”
MKA’s successful fall season has propelled the high school to make sure that its athletes play as many games as possible in the winter season.
“We saw how important sports were for the overall well-being and psyche of our fall athletes and coaches, and we want to do everything we can to provide our winter athletic teams the same opportunity to compete in a healthy and safe environment and to more importantly see their respective seasons through to the end,” Smith said.
While MKA will have masks, its opponents will not necessarily.
“We realize this needs to be a school and/or district decision and can only control what our own MKA teams and student athletes will do,” Smith said.
Some other schools have placed mask mandates on players in competition, including Leonia High School in Bergen County.