MHS senior Brett Janifer, pictured here during the NJSIAA Public A finals, will get a chance to lead his Mounties onto the ice this year as the state has given the green light for Winter sports to begin.

by Andrew Garda

With Christmas break done and school back in session — and a statewide ban on indoor sports lifted — sports programs at Montclair’s high schools are starting up once again.

But even after Gov. Phil Murphy last week allowed his executive order barring indoor sports to expire, teams will be operating under pandemic-prompted restrictions that keep spectators away, constrain schedules and likely take all tournaments off the table. 

Hockey teams began practicing on Jan. 3. Basketball, bowling and fencing can practice starting Jan. 11.

Hockey hits the ice for games starting Jan. 15. Basketball, bowling and fencing begin competition on Jan. 26.

Other winter sports will start over the course of the next three months.

As of now, Montclair High School is fielding teams in all winter sports. Montclair Kimberley Academy is expected to have hockey, boys and girls basketball and fencing. Immaculate Conception High School has both boys and girls basketball.

“We have protocols in place and will be having preseason meetings with the families for each sport to go over sport-specific protocols,” said MHS Athletic Director Patrick Scarpello. “We are excited for the upcoming season.”

ICHS Athletic Director Ryan Horan seconded that.

“We are excited and hopeful that our students will have a successful and healthy season,” Horan said. “We have a strong senior class for both the boys and girls, so definitely excited for their potential. Obviously, we will not have a county or state tourney, but we are happy to have something.”

The schools will face the same challenges this winter that their fall programs did, and will each have to find ways to limit exposure both on teams and in the school population.

MKA is currently remote until Jan. 19, and will test students and staff when hybrid learning resumes, though some athletes will go into school for testing earlier because of the game schedule.

“We are also requiring that all winter athletes will go remote for two weeks as soon as their first interscholastic games occur so we can monitor any COVID implications from playing other schools indoors,” MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith said.

The limitations will be a big story in sports this winter, and not just because there will be no Essex County tournament for the ICHS Lions boys to defend their title in, or NJSIAA tournaments.

While Immaculate Conception’s boys basketball team won’t get the chance to defend their Essex County Championship because the tournament was cancelled, Athletic Director Ryan Horan said the team is just happy to get the opportunity to play.

As with fall sports, the state and the NJSIAA have put restrictions on everything from the number of spectators — none as of now — to how many games can be played over the course of a week or a season.

As there are no fans allowed at a game, MHS is planning to stream at least some games this winter, as it did in the fall with football and soccer. Scarpello said MHS has not determined which sports or which games, but will know soon. 

MKA has broadcast games on its MKATV Youtube feed, but could not confirm for sure that it would be able to do so this winter, though Smith said they hoped they would be able to. ICHS is currently in the research stages to find out the cost for streaming, but Horan is hoping to stream both teams.

Both ice hockey and basketball are limited to a total of no more than 15 games, including county, conference or league championship games. There is a three-game maximum per week, and no team is allowed to play three games in a row, meaning they cannot play three games in three days.

Fencing also is capped at 15 meets, including any championships. Along with the state and county tournaments, the Cetrulo and Santelli tournaments — usually an early indicator of which girls and boys teams are going to perform well — have been canceled. There can be no more than three meets a week, and a team can only compete in one dual meet (a match between two schools) per day.

Bowling may only have 45 matches during the season, and like the other sports cannot have more than three events per week.

The NJSIAA had split winter sports into three groups, with ice hockey, basketball, fencing and bowling labeled Season 2, swimming and indoor track and field labeled Season 2a and wrestling in Season 3 along with two fall sports that were moved before the school year began, gymnastics and girls volleyball.

Season 2a was to start practice on Feb. 1, with competition starting on Feb. 16. Season 3 had a practice start date of March 1, with competition starting on March 16.