New York isn’t the first state to make the call to move high school football to the spring of 2021 and may not be the last. But the timing of Wednesday’s decision from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association came as a surprise to many.
“Completely (caught) off guard,” Carthage football coach Jason Coffman said. “We had a sports task force meeting amongst the head coaches yesterday and we kind of talked about what we would like to have happen as far as the total sports go. And before we even get the results from that, suddenly we’re hearing that football is going to get pushed back to next spring.”
Coffman, with player safety in mind, understands moving one of Carthage’s premier sports to the spring.
Coffman, a physical education teacher at the school, will continue to see members of his team this week and should see all of them by next week. It’s important to keep the message positive: the decision is a postponement, not a cancellation.
Garret Decker, a senior at Indian River, has tried to echo that same sentiment to his teammates. Following the announcement, he made sure to send a text to his team’s group chat. Decker views spring football as positive development.
“I think it’s for the best, I think if we started right now it would probably get cut and that would probably be it and we wouldn’t do it again,” Decker said. “The guys are positive about it, we’re ready to work this offseason and we’re going to make the best of it. It’s going to give us more time to get ready.”
Decker believes players will be more ready by March, physically and mentally.
“Nobody really has their head in the game right now, but as of today kind of more than we did (Wednesday),” Decker said. “Everybody has been like, ‘we’re not going to play this fall, I don’t have to get myself in shape.’ Now that we’re 100 percent not going to play this fall, it’s kind of a relief, now we have time to get ourselves together.”
But playing in March presents a number of logistical issues for school districts, from sports season overlapping, to field usage, to having enough coaches, to transportation. Canton athletic director Bill Porter said they’re willing to tackle such an undertaking for the students’ sake.
“I think we can pull anything off we set our minds to,” Porter said. “There are some challenges to work through, logistics to be determined. We have to troubleshoot all the potential problems and work through them.”
But Porter admits the spring situation looks daunting at this point, particularly in Section 10 where several football teams lack turf fields and lighting.
“It’s a huge concern,” said Porter, also the football team’s offensive coordinator. “There are more schools (around the state) that can use fields in March than us. ... To play football on a field, and two weeks later try to put a lacrosse field on it, will be a challenge. Usually we have heal time between football and lacrosse seasons. We probably won’t be able to use our field for games, we’ll be looking elsewhere, maybe reach out to Potsdam or play games on the road.”
March weather is often frigid in St. Lawrence County. Last March 1 reached a high of 25 in Canton.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy,” said Gouverneur head coach Sean Devlin said. “We had to practice (last November) at Clarkson inside, OFA a few times, Indian River a few times. The weather at that time of year is probably going to be similar to the first part of March. As it warms up the frost will melt and create a messy field.”
Yet football teams are expected to get their seasons started before the month is out. Come Sept. 21, football teams throughout the state can begin workouts, albeit with heavy restrictions. Football programs, if they so desire, can begin skill-related activity. General Brown coach Doug Black doesn’t envision motivation being a problem.
“I think our kids are itching, the ones I’ve talked to are itching just to do any physical activity,” Black said. “Obviously we’ll have to make it fun, we’ll have to make some competitions, do a little light-hearted stuff in addition to the work we have to put in. Things like 7-on-7 would go a long ways to get these kids motivated.”
Black hopes to use this fall like he would typically use the summer before the start of training camp. Right now, the New York State Department of Health, limits high-risk sports to skill training with intentional contact prohibited. It also says that practices should be broken up into small units of players that stick together for the duration of the session.
All of these workouts will be for a season that won’t start for another six months.
Indian River coach Cory Marsell has mixed feelings about the spring move.
“It was nice to finally have an answer, but there are a lot of things that now come into play,” Marsell said. “For example, now we’ve got coaches coming who have primary sports in the spring, coaches who have kids at college that they go watch, we have players that are actually graduating in January. All of those things being said, there are definitely mixed feelings. I’m not really sure, I know it was a tough decision but just not really sure if it’s going to be the best thing for us. But, if the kids get to play that’s going to be the most important thing, and play safely.”
Said Potsdam coach Jim Kirka, “I was glad they are going to give us something. I had heard that there wasn’t going to be any (season) at all. Anything we get, I am happy for kids who get to play.”