Most fall high school sports should be a “go,” but a few will remain a “no” for now.
On Aug. 24, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light for the majority of high school fall “low and moderate risk” sports to begin practicing Monday, Sept. 21.
However, the governor’s announcement included the caveat that competitions will be restricted to contest within each individual section until Oct. 19, at the earliest.
Tennis, soccer, cross-country, field hockey and swimming fall into the “low to moderate risk” category as defined by the state, while football and volleyball are classified as high risk. What that means for football and volleyball this school year is still to be decided.
Football and volleyball, Mr. Cuomo stated in his announcement, may not play until later in the fall or after New Year’s.
“In accordance with the Department of Health’s guidance for sports and recreation during the COVID-19 public health emergency, practices for higher-risk sports are limited to individual or group, no-to-low contact training,” Mr. Cuomo said in his release. “Higher-risk sports include football, wrestling, rugby, hockey and volleyball.”
Volleyball, football and rugby are fall sports, while wrestling is competed in the winter.
Mr. Cuomo’s announcement set off a wave of negative reactions from top school officials and school sports directors. On Wednesday, the New York State Council of School Superintendents sent a letter to the governor asking him to reconsider the decision to start sports on Sept. 21.
In explaining his position, Mr. Cuomo asserted that “the state has done a lot of research on how we can safely have our students participate in school sports and get the exercise they need, and the guidance we developed will allow lower-risk sports to begin practicing and playing next month.”
He continued, “We are approaching youth sports as we have approached everything else in our phased reopening — teams are not allowed to compete outside a school’s region or contiguous region for the time being until we can gauge the effects.”
The governor also outlined rules and procedures for fall sports. “Schools must follow the Department’s guidance for the conduct of their school sports. Schools will have to limit capacity of indoor facilities to no more than 50% occupancy and limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player, in addition to implementing social distancing and face coverings,” he stated.
While some were quick to rejoice that the fall season had been salvaged, there are still a few hurdles to be cleared and many questions to be answered.
Just a week earlier, New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas, in anticipation of the governor’s decision, released the association’s own set of actions and guidelines for determining whether each section and each school could begin play.
Those called for, within 24 hours of Mr. Cuomo’s announcement, to a meeting of all section directors and officers; then, within 48 hours, have a meeting of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 task force; and, finally, within three days, have NYSPHSAA officers render a decision if needed.
“The NYSPHSAA will meet today and give their guidance at some point and then our superintendents and Section I will weigh in,” said Christian McCarthy, director of Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Wellness on Tuesday. “I think it will look very different by the time it is all said and done. It may also look very different in certain schools or cohorts around the section.”
Fox Lane’s director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics, Adam Lodewick, echoed Mr. McCarthy’s observations.
“(I) would like to see what the NYSPHAA and Section I come out with within the next couple of days,” Mr. Lodewick said. “The governor’s comments lacked clarity and were confusing.”
The NYSPHSAA’s 11 section executive directors and officers met the morning of Aug. 25, while the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force met in the afternoon to discuss and analyze the guidance set down by Mr. Cuomo. The plan is to continue discussions over the next several days before laying out guidelines for a start of fall high school sports later in the week.
“We expect guidance by the end of the week,” Mr. McCarthy said.
With all the plans still up in the air, area high schools are still in a holding pattern when it comes to accepting registrations for fall sports.
“Fall sports registration is currently postponed until districts have a clear understanding of the status of fall sports and what this entails,” Dobbs Ferry Athletic Director Andrew Klaich said Monday in an email to the school district’s families following Mr. Cuomo’s announcement. “(The) NYSPHSAA, (its) executive directors throughout the state and Section I will be meeting within the next 24-48 hours to formulate a plan based on today's announcement.”
He added, “I will continue to keep you updated on fall sports and the registration process as information becomes available.”
Ardsley Athletic Director Michael Ramponi confirmed that nothing is settled, at least yet.
“I will wait for guidance from the NYSPHSAA and then the Section I task force,” he said. “I am not ready to fully commit to a fall season at this point — too many unanswered questions for me.”
He added, “And we are working to create a plan to keep kids social distanced during the school day and keep the cohorts intact, but, at 3 p.m., we’re going to throw that out the window?”
Added Drew Wendol, the new athletic director in Hastings, “(I) believe we should have an answer by the end of the week after the section and state review everything.”