Health Board Extends Haverhill Youth Sports Ban, While Allowing Out-of-Town Groups to Use Venues

Paul Gilmartin, owner of Haverhill Valley Forum skating rink in Ward Hill, addressed the Health Board via Zoom. (WHAV News screen capture.)

A ban on certain Haverhill youth sports was extended Wednesday to privately owned skating rinks and swimming pools even as those venues may remain open to out-of-town youngsters.

Haverhill’s Board of Health, responding to a proposed mayoral executive order, agreed to the temporary restrictions, but gave in to appeals from private businesses who said their livelihoods would be at risk. Paul Gilmartin, owner of Haverhill Valley Forum skating rink in Ward Hill, said 90 percent of his business comes from outside of Haverhill.

“We’re one of the few businesses that has been shut down for five months and continued to pay our taxes, continued to pay our mortgage, but this would be crippling and may put us out of business,” he said.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini asked the Health Board to consider additional restrictions as Haverhill’s COVID-19 positive cases have risen. Although he had an executive order drafted, the mayor asked the Board to approve stronger rules instead. The order proposed banning all youth sports activities, except certain, lower risk sports; provided a method for groups to request a waiver; and be reviewed again by Oct. 28. Last week, the city prohibited Haverhill youth from participating in sports, except high school cross country and golf. It was not clear then, however, if privately owned businesses were covered under the order.

Haverhill Valley Forum’s lawyer, Michael Migliori, called the order “unfair.” He proposed a compromise where leagues and programs from out-of-town could continue using the rink even while Haverhill youth cannot while the city remains in the high-risk red zone.

Similarly, Phoenix Swimming Coach Lori Paszko asked the prohibition not apply to her out-of-town students that use the pool she rents from Cedardale in Haverhill.

“Swimming is a little bit different in terms of a team sport because here’s no sharing of equipment, there’s no incidental contact. It is a pretty easy sport to keep social distancing,” she said.

Haverhill Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette said youth hockey practices at the city-operated Veteran’s Memorial Skating Rink are not competitive and are generally considered to be low risk.

Health Board Chairman Peter Carbone and member Alexander Matolcsy expressed concerns about approving any restrictions where low-risk sports are involved, as Carbone explained.

“I’m not in favor really of shutting all of these activities down unless they had a problem,” he said.

Member Romie Mundy, however, cautioned the city shouldn’t wait for an outbreak to take action.

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