Feb. 23—Under normal circumstances late February is the time where local winter sports teams are either preparing for the state tournament or wrapping up the season. The 2020-21 school year, however, has been anything but normal circumstances.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abbreviated fall and winter season with Monday beginning the "Fall 2" season, a fourth season added in between the winter and spring seasons to play football, track and field, volleyball and any other fall sport that was not completed during the normal fall season.
The season runs into late April and will feature a seven week football season.
Gloucester saw its first action on Monday afternoon with a preseason workout, and the team could not have been more eager to get going.
"It's a lot different than a normal season but we're excited that we are finally getting the chance to play," said Gloucester head coach Dan O'Connor, who is entering his second season at helm. "We're going to make the most out of this opportunity."
The Fishermen went through workouts during the fall season as was permitted by the MIAA. O'Connor and company were able to work a lot on scheme during the fall and the focus in the first couple of days has been fundamentals and conditioning. State rules mandate that teams must go through three conditioning practices in helmets before practicing in full pads.
In a normal football season, the team has the summer months to prepare for the season. This year, some of Gloucester's football players took part in a hockey or basketball game a week or even a day before the season opened.
"Those multi sport athletes actually came in at an advantage," O'Connor said. "They're moving from one sport to another quickly but they played sports that got them into great physical shape. We're not going to get into the physical stuff right away, most of the focus early on is conditioning and working on the fundamentals."
There have been some changes the players and coaches will need to get used to as well. Masks must be worn at all times and there are restrictions to what teams can do at practice. Social distancing measures still apply, making it more difficult to go through 11 on 11 drills. O'Connor said he had a lot of position specific drills during the fall sessions to keep the players distanced.
"On the field, the game is the same," O'Connor said. "We have to change the way we practice so we are meeting our protocols but every team is in the same boat there. I think the biggest thing is just getting used to running around with the helmet, mouth piece and mask on."
The Fishermen are looking to build off of a tough 2019 season, where the team finished 1-10. Gloucester currently has 36 players in the program and will be competing in the Northeastern Conference South Division this fall along with Salem, Saugus, Swampscott and Winthrop. Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Masconomet and Peabody make up the NEC North Division.
In the abbreviated "Fall 2" 2021 season, Gloucester will open up on Friday, March 12 at Saugus (TBA) with a game against each of the NEC South teams and crossover games against Beverly, Peabody and Danvers in the season finale.
This season will be like no other as Gloucester will be seeing its first game action in its season opener as the team opted not to have a preseason scrimmage.
"We want to stay as safe as possible so we took the option not to scrimmage," O'Connor said. "So we need to put in the extra effort to get better every day and prepared for the opener."