For the second consecutive year, a basketball state champion will not be crowned.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced Friday that all 2021 winter state championships will be canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“When examining the feasibility of Winter State Championships, it became apparent that travel and overnight accommodations would create a unique challenge for our member schools,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said in a press release. “At this time, we must prioritize maximizing student participation without a focus on championship events.”
The 2021 spring state championships are still expected to occur at this time.
The NYSPHSAA also announced that all high-risk sports will remain postponed until state officials authorize them. Along with basketball, wrestling, volleyball and ice hockey, which were set to start in a few weeks, this includes football and competitive cheerleading from the fall II season and boys lacrosse from the spring.
The state Department of Health determines the risk characterization for all sports.
The indefinite postponement doesn’t come as much of a surprise; state officials have maintained that high-risk interscholastic athletics will only go on once they give their approval, something Zayas repeated again and again during a Zoom meeting with reporters on Friday afternoon.
The start of all winter sports, including those that are high-risk, is traditionally at the beginning of November. The NYSPHSAA has since moved that start date twice, first to Nov. 30 for all winter sports, then to Jan. 4 for just high-risk sports. Instead of pushing back the high-risk sports start date by two more weeks, the state association thought it best to postpone all high-risk sports indefinitely, and wait for more guidance from the state.
In a press release the state association says that its decision to postpone all high-risk sports until the state gives its authorization was “reinforced by the increase in infection and hospitalization rates across the State.”
Low- and moderate-risk sports are permitted and will continue as scheduled. In Section 3, they will begin Monday, in the Frontier League, they will begin Jan. 4.
During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared that there were 10,595 new positive COVID cases in the state Thursday, an infection rate of 4.98%. He also released there were 5,321 total hospitalizations and 87 deaths statewide.
The decision to cancel the winter state championships and postpone all high-risk sports was made with input from NYSPHSAA membership and all 11 section executive directors.
“As an educator, I am witnessing first-hand the challenges our member schools are facing each day in addressing this pandemic,” NYSPHSAA President Julie Bergman said in a press release. “It is important we continue listening to the concerns being expressed by our membership when making decisions impacting interscholastic athletics.”
Also on Friday, Section 11 — Suffolk County on Long Island — announced that it would be canceling its winter season for high-risk sports.
According to Gregg Sarra of Newsday, the section would “reconvene on the issue only if the Governor puts out guidance in January that allows high risk sports in the state.”
Given the rise in cases, it is unlikely that authorization is coming soon. And while Zayas has been in contact with state health officials, there are no official metrics that schools need reach that would allow high-risk sports to be played.
“The communication that we’ve had with state officials has been beneficial,” Zayas said. “A lot of people question, why don’t they hear of those conversations, I’m not going to go on Twitter every single time I have a meeting with a state official and give a play-by-play of what just took place in that given meeting. I can tell you that the communication has been beneficial and it has been positive and it’s something that we appreciate as a state high school athletic association, to be able to have that dialogue with those state officials, understanding just how many things are going on right now in state offices.”
A month ago, Zayas looked at trending infection rate and rate of hospitalization and felt hope. He believed that maybe after the new year, the state will be at a place where the governor would feel comfortable authorizing high-risk sports, something he’s been hesitant to do all school year.
However, COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. Infection rates in the state began to rise, albeit at a much slower rate than this past March, and the chances of high-risk sports beginning on time once again looked bleak.
At this point, Zayas can only preach one thing — patience.
“I know people don’t want to hear that and I understand why,” Zayas said. “But that’s the reality of the situation, it’s been taking place for the last eight months, I know we’re all tired, I know we’re all ready to turn back to some sense of normalcy. But right now we have to rely upon our government officials to give us authorization when they determine that it’s appropriate.”