Even if the R.I. high school football community receives clearance from the state to go ahead with their Fall 2 season, the winners of the past two Division II Super Bowls will not be part of the proceedings.
Woonsocket head coach Charlie Bibeault confirmed on Saturday that the Villa Novans decided to opt out. The news comes as teams around the state gear up for a week-long conditioning period that begins Monday and prohibits the use of pads and helmets. The Department of Environmental Management still categorizes football as a high-risk sport, meaning the designation needs to change in order to firm up who is playing whom and when.
While the waiting game persists, the Villa Novans aren’t in a position where they’re sweating out the outcome. After huddling up with School Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGee, Principal Carnell Henderson, and Athletic Director Nancy Giordano, Bibeault said everyone weighed the pros and cons.
Ultimately, the best – and safest – course of action was to punt on the 2021 Spring season.
“It definitely wasn’t an easy decision,” said Bibeault, “but we were all onboard.”
A hands-on coach who has stressed the importance of offseason conditioning to his players, Bibeault and his Woonsocket assistant coaches landed in a tough spot upon the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last March. Removed from the equation were the days of after-school weightlifting sessions in the basement of the Barry Field clubhouse. For social-distancing reasons, they’ve yet to reappear.
“The Monday after Thanksgiving, we’re in the weight room,” said Bibeault. “We had a good thing going up until March. Then the pandemic struck and it hit us hard.”
As the spring of 2020 gave way to the summer and eventually the fall, Bibeault – in accordance with district policy – was still unable to gather his players for offseason conditioning. As talk of a potential season that would start in late February and not conclude until Mother’s Day weekend ramped up, a cold reality washed over Bibeault.
“Our foundation is built in the weight room. Not being in there for over a year and moving up to Division I … we had a lot of work to do,” said Bibeault. “If things were going good in the weight room, we would have been ready.
“Trying to piece together a team over three weeks … I don’t think it was a smart thing to do,” Bibeault added.
Bibeault touched upon the fact that Woonsocket had been bumped up to Division I after winning back-to-back D-II titles. Graduation losses coupled with decisions made by key returning players to not don the shoulder pads were also deciding factors in taking a long-term approach to the health and vibrancy of the program.
“Our heart breaks for the [Class of 2021] seniors, but we’re taking steps so we can safely get back into the weight room,” said Bibeault.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03