The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced this past week that it has pushed the start date for high school scholastic sports to Sept. 21. Practices for fall sports were originally scheduled to commence Aug. 24.
Fall sports include football, field hockey; boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball and cross-country; and girls’ swimming and tennis.
In that same announcement, NYSPHSAA also cancelled all fall state regional and championship games and laid out a plan that would be implemented if the fall season is cancelled in its entirety. Under that scenario, beginning Jan. 4, all sports would be condensed into three overlapping, shortened seasons.
The possibility of state championships being contested at the end of each of the three condensed seasons is not off the table.
The idea of overlapping is a concern for schools in Section I, which does not allow student-athletes to compete in more than one sport per season. Many other sections in the state do not enforce such a rule.
These decisions came at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force after its July 16 meeting.
All of these plans are contingent on the state allowing high schools to hold extracurricular activities.
“As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start on Aug. 24 as originally scheduled,” Paul Harrica, NYSPHSAA president, said. “The priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”
The Task Force also voted to waive the seven-day practice rule and encouraged geographic scheduling of games.
“We recognize this is challenging for everyone, but the decisions made at the state level are based upon data and statewide infection rates all in an effort to stop the spread of COVID and reopen responsibly,” Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director, said. “At this time, Department of Health guidance presented on July 13 prohibits interscholastic athletics across the state.”
Mr. Zayas added, “The Association will continue to follow state guidance and will work collectively with state officials to ensure high school athletics will start up responsibly in the future. As an association, we must be willing to be flexible and continue to explore all options with students’ safety as our main focus.”
If the fall season is cut short or cancelled, NYSPHSAA has laid out a plan that will enable all sports to be contested from January through June over three segments, each 10 weeks in length.
Season I would include boys’ and girls’ basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track, skiing, wrestling and competitive cheerleading. This segment would run from Jan. 4 to March 13. These are traditional winter sports. Depending on health conditions at the time, wrestling and cheerleading, because of the physical contact involved in both, may be moved to later in the school year.
Season II would include the traditional fall sports of football, boys’ and girls’ cross-country, field hockey and soccer; and girls’ swimming and volleyball. It would run from March 1 to May 8.
Season III is scheduled to run from April 5 to June 12. Girls’ tennis, normally a fall sport had been shifted to Season III with the spring sports of baseball and softball; girls’ and boys’ golf and lacrosse, outdoor track and field; and boys’ tennis.
There are still many stumbling blocks to playing a fall season as schools continue to try to agree on plans on how they will operate.
“Our first responsibility is to open our schools safely and welcome our students back on campus,” said Chris McCarthy, director of health, physical education, athletics and wellness. “Although, I will remain optimistic and will plan appropriately, there are so many factors that can come into play.”
He added, “It starts with the ability for our students to train and prepare in order to compete safely. The ability to share facilities among our own teams will be limited, which could impact the number of programs we are able to offer.”
Fox Lane Athletic Director Adam Lodewick echoed the emphasis on safety.
“My biggest concern is being able to keep kids, coaches and families safe,” Mr. Lodewick said. “I expect to receive some guidance from the state and our local task force on all the necessary precautions we need to take if we are able to start playing.”
Some Westchester high school athletic directors are looking at the glass as half-full.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a fall season,” said Andrew Klaich, Dobbs Ferry’s athletic director. “The fall start date was just delayed, so it will be a shortened season at best. I do commend NYSPHSAA for making the difficult decision to delay fall sports at this point in time. I feel students and staff can now process the information and focus on a smooth transition to the start of the school year and then hopefully transition into fall sports soon after.”
Mr. Lodewick believes a trade-off of state playoffs for a chance to play would be acceptable.
“This (no state games) is obviously disappointing,” Mr. Lodewick said. “It is such a great experience for those student-athletes who are fortunate enough to make it that far. However, under these circumstances, it’s understandable and I think everyone realizes that.”
He added, “I think the most important thing right now is focusing on being able to get the kids back out on the field playing. Even just from the social and emotional standpoint, I think it’s so important getting back out with their peers and being able to compete.”
NYSPHSAA noted in their release that weather may impact the outdoor sports in this segment, but as of yet did not have an alternative plan to deal with the potential disruptions.
The overlapping of seasons in this plan poses a major concern for athletic directors.
“I think it will be nearly impossible to run all of the sports successfully,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Even schools as large as John Jay rely on the multi-sport athlete as a key ingredient to the programs’ success. With the smaller schools, it’s an absolute necessity.” The overlapping may actually cost athletes a chance to participate, he added.
“I absolutely think it will affect rosters,” Mr. Lodewick commented. “I believe some programs in districts would actually fold. It is my hope that sports remain in the traditional seasons to avoid kids having to choose between two sports they typically play.”
He added, “Without regional and state championships, I think locally, we as athletic administrators would be able to adjust to some of the dates to limit the amount of overlap.”
“Our league schedule and sectional tournaments should be our focus,” said Mr. McCarthy of John Jay. “After losing their spring season last year, I think students will be more excited and appreciate the opportunity to compete once again.”
Mr. Lodewick agreed that the athletes are waiting for their chance.
“I think having to deal with the pandemic, it has helped show people the appreciation for some things they may have taken for granted otherwise,” said Mr. Lodewick. “Who would have ever thought sports would be taken away from us?”
He added, “I think if we are able to get back out there, people will be excited just to be out playing and getting back to some type of normalcy.”