The New England Pond Hockey Classic will return this year, though with some significant changes to minimize crowds. (File Photo) (click for larger version)
January 06, 2021MEREDITH — The New England Pond Hockey Classic and the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby are still on for 2021 with some significant changes and have received support from the selectmen.
On Monday the board unanimously approved issuing event permits to both the Pond Hockey Classic, scheduled for Feb. 5-7, and the Rotary Derby, scheduled for Feb. 13 & 14.
The main events both take place on the lake, which is under state jurisdiction. Town Manager Phil Warren said the town usually only issues event permits for the use of town property on the land through the Public Works Department, in these cases Hesky and Scenic Parks. Given the nature of the current situation, however, Warren recommended that the selectmen review these permits and vote on whether to grant the authorization to issue them. Warren said this is only temporary during the pandemic and the old format would come back again when things were more normal.
The organizers of both events have been working closely with the state and put together operations plans to keep things going and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both events will look a lot different this year and things have been changed around to minimize large crowds in concentrated areas.
Scott Crowder, founder of the New England Pond Hockey Classic, said the number of teams has dropped this year. Crowder said they initially had 280 teams, the same number they've had for the past several years, but 65 teams have since left the roster. Around 1,700 players will be on the ice over the weekend. Crowder said around 95 percent of the teams are from New England with many teams from farther away not coming due to New Hampshire's travel requirements.
The schedules were also altered so teams will play closer consecutive games and be able to leave the venue when they're done.
While the rinks usually bring out a lot of spectators, this year they will be fenced off and only players will be allowed in that area. Crowder said they can't prevent people from going on the ice entirely, but they can limit access to the rink areas with fencing, staff members posted around there, and signage.
"It's going to change the look, feel, and vibe of the event, but I think it's the way we can effectively host it and kind of hit on the guidelines that are on that preparedness plan," Crowder said.
He said this will also allow players to get their temperatures checked before they go on the ice and the tournament is working with Stewart's Ambulance to do that.
The locker room tent and the beer garden with a stage for live entertainment have also been cut. Crowder said the Common Man restaurants might have the potential to have extended outdoor dining.
Fred Strader of the Meredith Rotary said there are four areas that bring crowds to the derby, three of those will be going virtual and one will be eliminated entirely. Strader said the Rotary has some new software and updated its technology to offer some new features.
There will be no board at Hesky Park, instead a virtual board will be set up where anyone can see the biggest fish in an online space. It will also be easier to buy tickets online and all the raffle winners will be announced online with no physical board in Hesky Park.
The closing ceremony and grand prize drawings will take place on a livestream. Winners of fish prizes and raffle prizes will have their checks mailed to them. The kids fishing clinic has been canceled entirely for this year
Changes will also be made inside the derby trailer to protect volunteers. Masks and social distancing will also be required for everyone.
Both Crowder and Strader commented that people are still doing outdoor winter activities regardless of if these events are going on or not. Crowder said he saw a lot of people on the slopes at Loon Mountain and Strader said the state has issued a higher number of fishing permits than usual this year.
"I predict, with or without the derby, they're going to fish as long as there's ice and good weather," Strader said. "The sport of ice fishing itself is an outdoor activity."
Warren agreed with this point, saying no matter if the tournament or the derby go on or not people will still be using the ice, which is under the control of the state and not the town.
Members of the board voiced their support for having both these events go on as scheduled.
Selectman Mike Pelczar said Meredith relies on tourism and he knows people who work in the service industry who are struggling now. He said he knows Strader, Crowder, and all their respective teams are doing everything they can to follow the guidelines.
"I just think the area needs it and the people need it," Pelczar said.
The board unanimously approved issuing the event permits for the Pond Hockey Classic and the Rotary Derby.