A little leftover rain from Tropical Storm Henri certainly didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits on the opening day of preseason for New York State Monday, Aug. 23. For the first time in over a year, athletics throughout the state went off as originally intended, with the major real pre-COVID-19 difference being that anyone who was indoors was required to wear a mask.
As things kick off, that is the major lasting impact of the pandemic on athletics, though schools, unlike when they returned to action late September 2020, now have protocols in place should there be a heightened threat brought forth by any variant of COVID-19.
“I hope the school year starts smoothly and that we don’t have any bumps in the road with athletics,” Edgemont athletic director Anthony DeRosa said. “Last year was a pretty grueling year. It was worth it. To be able to get all the sports in was great and to be able to allow kids to participate and have that outlet when everything else was shut down for so long was really awesome. It was definitely a mentally taxing year for a lot of us, administrators, teachers, athletic staff, coaches, but it was definitely worth it in the end. I just hope we can get back to 100% normal or as close to it as possible.”
Starting about two weeks prior to the start of the school year as normal was a big step forward according to Scarsdale athletic director Ray Pappalardi. “It’s the first day and we’re able to start, which is the right way to start,” Pappalardi said. “If there’s anything going to happen related to COVID we don’t affect school. This is the best time to find out if everything we think will work works. We’ve got about 10 days before school starts.”
Pappalardi said there is New York State Education Department guidance, but it “doesn’t really touch on sports,” and mirrors Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidance.
“Everything is a recommendation right now — there are no real requirements,” Pappalardi said. “The way we have operationalized what the recommendations are is that outdoor sports no masks are required and we encourage nonvaccinated people and all people who are uncomfortable being in large groups to wear masks outdoors.”
There are no spectator limits, nor will there be screening or sign in for fans at either school. There will be no contact tracing for outdoor events, Pappalardi said.
“It’s not required or recommended,” DeRosa said. “It was a lot of time and effort to do that and obviously things can change. As the summer went on with the new variant things seemed to be getting worse and worse, hence the recommendation for schools to mask indoors. We still could put things in place, but right now we’re not expecting to at this time.”
Masks are required indoors for all staff and spectators, with some exceptions this fall for swimmers, divers and cheerleaders. Swimmers and divers, like last school year, will be able to remove their masks once they get to the blocks or board. In addition, Scarsdale swimming will return from the YWCA in White Plains to Westchester Community College, whose pool was closed during the height of the pandemic.
Cheerleaders in Scarsdale, as the result of AAP guidance, were not permitted to compete last year due to masking guidance that has since been changed. The cheerleaders are now permitted to go maskless — even indoors — for stunting, tumbling and flying, which will allow them to compete.
“This is great news because there is no longer a mandate that we are contradicting when we are following the AAP, which has a provision there that says league officials have the power to make determinations on whether the risk of COVID is higher than the risk of injury,” Pappalardi said. “There is a lot of latitude for athletic administrators to make decisions in the best interest of kids and their safety.”
Cheerleading coach Stacy Monteiro got the good news last week and was thrilled to be able to share it with her team.
“If we see something that becomes unsafe we can address that,” Monteiro said. “We did routines for an entire year in masks and we didn’t have any injuries. Teams that competed locally and at nationals in Florida in April, everything was fine. At least we can give them the option of wearing them so the kids and parents feel comfortable. The majority of the kids are vaccinated, so I think that brings a little more comfort to the situation as well.”
The only thing Scarsdale is not currently permitting is overnight trips, which is something many teams often take advantage of throughout the school year in search of better competition and team bonding opportunities. The guidance says that people should not travel with or sleep in a room with anyone who is not family. For cheerleading that impacts Nationals.
“As far as Nationals goes that would be the next steppingstone, but if they offer a regional competition in November like we normally do we’ll go and if we get a bid to Nationals great. Last year they moved Nationals later than normal and maybe they’ll allow teams to send in videos if they can’t attend, but right now we’re on a good path. We’re allowed to compete, which was our biggest challenge.”
The district will have to decide what to do as New York State Public High School Athletic Association plans to hold state tournaments. Any teams or individuals that advance could be at risk of having to drop out if overnight stays are unavoidable. “We have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Pappalardi said.
For unvaccinated athletes, Pappalardi said Scarsdale is “asking” them to get tested for COVID-19 weekly. Westchester County is providing the testing free of charge and those details are still being worked out.
Edgemont will start the school year doing daily health screenings for athletes, in addition to the one parents have to fill out prior to school each day. “I’d rather start a little more restrictive and then ease back because it’s second nature to them if they played last year,” DeRosa said. “They know what to do. We will verify nothing has changed in the afternoon like last year.”
While all sports were delayed for the 2020-21 school year, fall sports like football, volleyball, girls swimming and diving competed in the spring, ending their shortened seasons only a few months ago. Those athletes were particularly happy to be out there on the fields this week.
“I’d say that despite how recently we were on a field playing football, it’s been forever since we’ve had what we’ve got right now, which is just a normal football season experience,” Scarsdale senior Julian Glantz said. “Yes, we have some restrictions, but they don’t get in the way of the team bonding, which shapes our team and motivates many of us to get through the long double sessions. That aspect was taken away pretty much all of last year, so having it back is a great feeling. I think it’s helping us have a lot of fun and that’s going to make us a very dangerous team in the long run.”
All sports are back in their normal leagues and can travel beyond the region to compete. Edgemont, which spent last year in Class A, is back down to Class B this school year due to changing enrollment numbers locally and throughout the state.
“It worked out and to be honest I think our kids did admirably well taking a step up in class because it is a huge jump in competition and I think we held our own,” DeRosa said. “The records might not have shown that, but the games were definitely competitive, which I was really happy about.”
Right now where teams finish in the standings is less of a concern as everyone is focused on the joy of being as close to a place of normalcy as they’ve been since the start of the pandemic.