Update: The Vermont Principals’ Association said late Tuesday morning that after consulting with Winooski School District officials, members of the press will be allowed to attend the Enosburg-Winooski Division 3 boys soccer semifinal match at Burlington High School.
Reporters and photographers with VPA-issued credentials are welcome to attend the game, which begins at 3 p.m. Fans and others can watch via livestream.
The Winooski and Enosburg high school soccer teams are set for a big playoff match Tuesday, but the teams’ first tilt since a heated match in September will take place without fans or media in attendance.
The Vermont Principals Association said Monday that only players, coaches, officials and school administrators will be allowed to attend the game, which will be held at Burlington High School. The VPA said the decision is intended to “ensure the physical and emotional safety of all student athletes involved.”
The September 18 match between the teams ended with Winooski players claiming to be the target of racial slurs. Meanwhile video from the County Courier appears to show a Winooski player head butting an Enosburg player.
The incidents remain under investigation, but VPA President Jay Nichols said the organization didn’t want to take any chances this time around.
“We were hoping that the two schools could maybe get together and work through things, they weren’t able to do that,” Nichols said. “They ended up subsequently cancelling their next game, and we heard through interviews with people that there were a number of inappropriate comments being made and even some physical gestures from spectators on both sides. That was enough for us to say okay, we’re not having spectators here, we need to ensure the safety of the kids.”
Instead, the only ticket in town will be a livestream recorded by Winooski officials.
The decision to close the match off to media hasn’t sat well with the Vermont Press Association. Executive Director Mike Donoughue blasted the unprecedented decision made without members of the media at the table.
“So, what happens if a fight starts during this game, will the Winooski camera man shut off the video?” Donoghue asked. “The VPA said they would expect that they probably would. Where is the independent analysis or the independent chance to see what really happened at the game when the Winooski School District is controlling the message?”
Nichols said he’s spoken with Donoghue about his concerns, but as of Monday night, he said they’ll have to agree to disagree.
“In terms of the media part, that was more of a longer discussion, and we felt there’s been enough spotlight on these kids,” Nichols said. “School officials were worried that more spotlight on them wasn’t necessarily a good thing.”
The Vermont Press Association has filed an appeal to the Winooski School District to reconsider the decision, and Donoghue wants the Winooski School Board to hold an emergency meeting where the public can weigh in.
According to Seven Days, the Winooski Police Department looked into possible criminal charges for the Winooski player involved in the headbutting incident.
The Vermont Press Association and the Vermont Sports Media Association also appealed an attempted ban of media members from a semi-final basketball game last year, which was successful.