New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light Monday, Aug. 24, for the majority of high school fall “low and moderate risk” sports to begin practicing Sept. 21.
However, the governor’s announcement included the caveat that competitions will be restricted to contests 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, 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,” Cuomo said in a statement released Monday. “Higher-risk sports include football, wrestling, rugby, hockey and volleyball.”
Volleyball, football and rugby are fall sports, while wrestling takes place in the winter.
“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,” Cuomo said. “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 added, “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.”
While many were quick to rejoice that the fall season had been salvaged, there are still a few hurdles to be cleared.
Just a week earlier, New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas, in anticipation of the governor’s announcement, 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 Cuomo’s decision, a meeting of all section directors and officers; then, within 48 hours, a meeting of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 task force; and, finally, within three days, NYSPHSAA officers to 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,” Christian McCarthy, director of Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Wellness said on Tuesday, Aug. 25. “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.”
A wrench may have been thrown into all of these plans as the New York State Council of Schools Superintendents, through executive director Dr. Charles Dedrick, did in fact weigh in. In a letter sent to Cuomo on Wednesday, Aug. 26, Dedrick urged the governor to push the start of interscholastic athletics to Jan. 1.
“Authorizing school athletics could jeopardize successful resumption of in-person learning for students,” Dedrick wrote.
Dedrick noted an inconsistency as students in physical education classes need to be 12 feet apart, “yet contact athletics and other activities that regularly bring athletes into close proximity are deemed safe at this time.”
Other issues such as transportation, locker rooms, spectators, personnel, remote learning and hybrid scheduling “are too significant at this time without detracting from the primary goal of bringing students back to school safely,” according to Dedrick, who noted, “We are sympathetic to the students and families that have been hoping and preparing for school athletics this fall.”
As of press time, Scarsdale Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman and Edgemont Superintendent Dr. Victoria Kniewel did not respond to a request for comment as to whether or not they support the letter sent to the governor.
Over the summer, the NYSPHSAA had come up with several potential scenarios for sports restarting, and one of those plans included three modified seasons in January/February, March/April and May/June. Cuomo and the NYSPHSAA have yet to respond publicly to the letter from the state superintendents.
— with reporting by Todd Sliss