The New York State Public High School Athletic Association COVID-19 Task Force unveiled six potential scenarios for the 2020-21 school year following its most recent meeting last week that could result in drastic changes for Oswego County athletes and their peers around the state beginning this fall.
The proposals, which were released by NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas last Friday, are meant to serve as a framework or starting point for the upcoming scholastic sports seasons. The document stated that no decisions will be made until direction for the academic year is provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Education.
On Monday, Gov. Cuomo stated that no decision has been made on if schools will open in the fall but that all districts are required to have an opening plan in place. He has long been expected announce plans by the mid-July. Fall sports are scheduled to begin practice on Aug. 24 under the original model for the upcoming school year.
“The problem is that things are changing so fast, every time you turn around you see something different and I don’t think anybody knows,” said Central Square girls varsity soccer coach, Angelo Carroccio. “Nobody really has answers right now because we’ve never dealt with this before, so the approach I’m taking is just to wait and see what happens. Everyone wants a season, and I think the main thing is the kid’s safety, so if there is way that we can keep them safe and have a season then that would be great, but again, I don’t think there are really a lot of answers right now.”
The NYSPHSAA surveyed nearly 6,000 superintendents, principals, athletic directors and coaches regarding potential season adjustments for the upcoming year.
The top priority for the following scenarios, per survey results, is the safety of all involved with interscholastic athletics followed by engaging students, with championships being a low priority.
“Nobody wants to be in the position where after the fact you find out, well you shouldn’t have done that, and you feel bad because you exposed kids and people and lost more lives,” said Sandy Creek athletic director, Mike Stevens. “That’s why we’re in this.”
High school sports were divided into three groups — high risk, moderate risk, and low risk — the criteria for which is outlined in the NFHS Guidelines for Reopening Schools and based mostly on the amount of close, sustained contact, and the likelihood of respiratory particle transmissions during play.
The first scenario laid out by the taskforce is the most optimistic, stating that no changes to the regular schedules are needed if schools open for in-person learning in the fall that includes athletic training.
The second and third scenarios — schools open with hybrid education model or distance-learning model, each including athletic participation — would require two potential shake-ups to the traditional sports season models to start the fall with sports classified as low risk and proceed to moderate and high-risk sports through the school year.
The first such adjustment would produce the following three-season sports calendar with tentative dates for 2020-21: Fall sports (Aug. 24-Dec. 5) are baseball, softball, boys/girls outdoor track and field, boys/girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, girls lacrosse, and boys/girls bowling; Winter sports (Nov. 16-March 20) are boys/girls basketball, boys/girls indoor track and field, gymnastics, boys swimming and diving, ice hockey, boys/girls skiing, boys/girls volleyball, and unified bowling; Spring sports (March 5-June 12) are football, boys/girls soccer, boys/girls cross country, boys lacrosse, field hockey, boys tennis, competitive cheer, wrestling, and unified basketball.
The second potential shift would split the fall and spring to produce five condensed sports seasons for the upcoming year, broken down with tentative dates as follows: Fall season I (Aug. 24-Oct. 17) is golf, tennis, bowling, and cross country for all boys and girls teams; Fall season II (Oct. 19-Dec. 12) is boys/girls swimming and diving and boys/girls volleyball; Winter season (Jan. 4-Feb. 19) is basketball, indoor track and field, ice hockey, skiing, and unified bowling for all boys/girls teams; Spring season I (March 1-April 24) is football, boys/girls soccer, field hockey, competitive cheer, and unified basketball; Spring season II (April 26-June 12) is baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, boys/girls lacrosse, wrestling, and unified basketball.
Stevens, who is hoping to enter his 23rd season as head varsity coach of the Sandy Creek varsity football team this fall, said that while such scenarios have setbacks like creating new conflicts for multi-sport athletes or additional participation struggles for small schools, he is grateful to see the taskforce looking “outside the box.”
“It doesn’t look very promising for the fall as far as the traditional season for those sports, but there may be something that can happen,” Stevens said.
“Rather than see kids lose everything, if it means drastically changing things where they can still get something out of (this year), I’m in favor of that,” he added. “It is bad enough what the senior class just lost, everything from the spring on, but our juniors coming in also lost that spring season and now to carry in and lose their senior year just makes it worse for them. There isn’t much you can do. It’s nobody’s fault, we’ve never been in anything like this.”
The NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force created another adjusted schedule to address the potential for Scenarios No. 4 (hybrid education model) and No. 5 (distance learning), both of which would not include athletic participation to start the school year.
That model would call for three 10-week sports seasons that would begin in January, with game limits reduced and room for further adjustments, broken down as follows with dates subject to change: Season I (Jan. 4-March 13) is basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track and field, and skiing for all boys and girls teams, along with boys swimming; Season II (March 1-May 8) is football, wrestling, competitive cheer, boys/girls cross country, field hockey, boys/girls soccer, field hockey, girls swimming, boys/girls volleyball, and unified bowling; Season III (April 5-June 12) is baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field, and unified basketball for all boys and girls teams.
The sixth and final scenario — if decisions on start dates and learning platforms are made on a regional basis — called for individual adjustments made by each section and no state championships would be contested due to the lack of statewide consistency in sports seasons.
“I would just like to see the kids be able to play games, to go back to what athletics was in the first place, a chance to play for fun and not worry about what championship you’re winning,” Stevens said.
The task force is scheduled to meet again later this month and is hoping for further clarity from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the meantime.
High school sports teams are still not permitted to begin formal workouts under state guidelines despite the opening of their facilities for outside use. Players continue to train individually and much like their coaches and administrators, are simply waiting for the fate of their upcoming seasons to be determined.
“It’s hard to wait but I’m hoping in mid-July at the next meeting that we’ll get some more answers,” Carroccio said. “I just assure the girls that they need to stay positive and hope for a season. We hope we can get out there.”