On Friday February 28th, 333 schools that are part of the MIAA gathered at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School to vote for the passing of the Statewide Tournament Proposal. The vote passed in favor of it 193-140, and the new system will be implemented in the Fall of 2021. With it comes the likely elimination of the Western Mass Tournament along with saying our farewells to all other regional tournaments in the state of Massachusetts.
LHS Principal Thomas Landers says, “I think the Western Mass regional tournament means something to student athletes here. It inherently has value. We had the Western Mass tournaments and other regions had their sectional tournaments, and I know through years of experience, student athletes care about Western Mass. I think there is a history to this tournament that matters.” For students here at LHS, winning Western Mass is both an individual accomplishment as well as a team accomplishment. “It was interesting for me to listen to current student athletes and former athletes who are now adults say that Western Mass really mattered and that states was awesome but it was just extra and icing on the cake,” says Mr. Landers.
Mr. Landers, who opposed the change, believes the people who drafted the new system, the Tournament Management Committee (TMC), rushed to vote on it. “I think that the MIAA had a really good, in-depth, thorough phase 1- talking to the different regions of the state, trying to hear feedback, trying to see if this was a good idea,” says Mr. Landers. “The TMC didn’t have to take this to a vote so to their credit, they knew this was a hot-button issue, and that this was changing decades and decades of history and experience. Even though they had the authority to pass it without taking a vote, they wanted to be inclusive and proceed to a vote; with that being said, the second phase was a poor roll out in my opinion.”
The second phase of the statewide tournament proposal consisted of deciding on the date of the vote, and the specifics and the details of the plan. However, “there was nothing … no communication from the TMC in the month of January,” says Mr. Landers. “Finally, on February 4th, the TMC had a meeting with Athletic Directors and they told them what would happen if they voted “yes,” and likewise if they voted “no.” Even though this had been dialogued, they didn’t formally put this information up on their website until February 4th, when they announced that the vote was going to be held on February 28th.”
In addition, “the first open-public Q&A session that was offered in Western Mass took place on Monday, February 24th, and the vote was on Friday, February 28th,” says Mr. Landers. “I know that good people worked on it, a lot of work went into it, and how it is a complicated problem, but my main criticism is the rollout of their phase 2 and how close everything was to each other. I don’t understand why this had to happen on February 28th rather than their meeting in April with a little more time for people to wrap their head around this.”
While the TMC has laid out all the information on how team sports would be impacted by the new proposal, it has not yet clarified on how the individual sports such as track, swimming, and cross country will be affected. “I think it’s rushed in the fact that we don’t have all the specifics yet,” says Athletic Director, Mr. Michael Capotosto. “To roll it out without all the specifics yet, I think it’s a little rushed. That’s where I think we should’ve waited a bit.” Mr. Landers adds, ““I think it’s incumbent upon the TMC or the MIAA leadership to lay all of this information out. I think we are being asked to vote on something with as many questions as answers.”
While people may look at this new statewide proposal as increasing the transportation costs and time on the road, Mr. Capotosto points out how that if “people actually look at the facts, we actually would’ve traveled less under the new statewide proposal. For example, our boys soccer team would’ve hosted three home games instead of just one.”
Additionally, Mr. Capotosto believes that this new proposal won’t change where some sports teams travel because of the already away-game heavy schedule. “We go to Lincoln-Sudbury, Pittsfield, Taconic, and all these other towns that are so far away,” says Mr. Capotosto. “This proposal won’t change much for those sports at all. The sports teams that are already playing out of the region have been doing that for years.”
At the end of the day, Mr. Landers and the rest of the administrators “will advocate for LHS student athletes.” He “thinks a school like Longmeadow High School that has a good athletic program is going to make the playoffs.” Historically, “we have successful programs here that play at a high-level,” adds Mr. Capotosto. Those programs are still going to be seeded very well under the new statewide proposal. Our field hockey team would’ve been seeded second, our boys soccer team 1st, and boys basketball would’ve been seeded 5th. The sports programs that are doing well right now will continue their success under the new format of playoffs.”