EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2012

Nighttime sports return

Ban due to EEE threat lifted, allowing games, practices after dusk

By Mike LaBella mlabella@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — It’s back to playing sports under the lights at Trinity Stadium and Riverside Park, now that the threat of the EEE virus has diminished.

Last night, Haverhill High School held its first varsity and junior varsity field hockey games at Trinity Stadium since the city ordered a ban last month on outdoor sports after dusk.

Field hockey as well as soccer games that were being held on natural turf at the high school during the day have all returned to the artificial turf of the stadium, the city’s premire sports venue.

From high school sports to youth and adult leagues, outdoor games and practices that weren’t being allowed after the sun went down have resumed.

Mayor James Fiorentini ordered the ban to be lifted yesterday at the recommendation of Board of Health Chairman Dr. Carl Rosenbloom. The mayor’s chief of staff, David Van Dam, said below-freezing temperatures over the weekend and a killing frost reduced the threat of Eastern Equine Encaphalitis that human receive through bites from infected mosquitoes. Officials had previously announced the ban would be in effect until the first hard frost.

“The mayor is happy that normal activities can resume and schools have been notified that they can resume normal activities as well,” Van Dam said.

The ban resulted in the postponement and rescheduling of several sporting events, including the Oct. 5 night football game at Trinity Stadium featuring Haverhill High against Chelmsford.

The game was held the afternoon of Oct. 6. The Hillies beat the Chelmsford Lions 30 to 23.

Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, which also adhered to the outdoor ban by stopping practices and games by dusk, was scheduled to play at Georgetown on Sept. 22. Instead the game was held that day at Whittier after Georgetown implemented its own EEE ban on outdoor activities.

Haverhill High Athletic Director Tom O’Brien said student athletes are looking forward to returning to Trinity Stadium for night games. In addition to last night’s field hockey games, varsity and junior varsity boys soccer games are tonight, and varsity and junior varsity girls soccer games are Thursday night.

“The other schools were very cooperative in accommodating all of the changes,” O’Brien said. “I gave them advance notice about (returning to night games) this week and luckily we didn’t have to make any changes.”

After O’Brien shifted night games to day games at the high school, he saw a slight drop in attendance by fans. The high school field lacks amenities such as scoreboards and a sound system for announcements.

“The biggest thing is the playing experience of the stadium where we have artificial turf that everybody loves,” O’Brien said.

The Hillies football team will play its next home game under the lights against Methuen Oct. 26 at Trinity Stadium.

“Logisitically, it’s much better for everyone involved,” O’Brien said about having the ban on night games lifted. “Everything from families to staff to spectators to referees to both teams, we put up a schedule in advance and when we adhere to it it makes life easier for everyone without having to make a lot of adjustments.”

While the ban was in effect, city sports fields had to be vacated by sunset and no activities were allowed prior to sunrise.

On Sept. 21 Haverhill cancelled all outdoor public recreational activities on city property between dusk and dawn after state health officials notified the city’s Board of Health that Amesbury, Merrimac and Haverhill were all raised to a critical risk level for EEE.

Officials said the risk from mosquitoes carrying the disease was especially high between dusk and dawn. EEE can cause a serious and sometimes-fatal brain infection.

Yesterday, city Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette said he notified leagues that have permits to use city sports fields that they can now hold practices, games and other activities after dusk. The ban required changing schedules for junior football and soccer, adult softball and fall baseball.

“People can now use the fields after dusk, so any games that were to take place under the lights can now continue,” Ouellette said. “Practices can now go until it gets dark.”

The Thursday night youth football league, which usually holds games at 4:30 and at 5:30 p.m. at Riverside Park under the lights, can resume its normal Thursday night schedule, Ouellette said.

The Rec. Department’s Men’s Softball League will see its schedule extended several weeks. Ouellette said the league was unable to hold weekend games as expected and will resume its Monday and Wednesday night games at Riverside Park under the lights.