Section 3 postponed the start of its low- and moderate-risk sports season to Dec. 14, but Frontier League schools are going to have to wait a little bit longer.
Frontier League assistant executive director Scott Connell confirmed that the eight Frontier League schools who participate in low- and moderate-risk sports agreed to begin their season Jan. 4.
In the Frontier League, the only low- and moderate-risk sports that are played are swimming and diving and bowling. The seven schools that participate are Carthage, Indian River, Lowville, South Jefferson, South Lewis, Watertown and Gouverneur, which typically joins the Frontier League for swimming.
“They were interested in anything,” Connell said. “Especially with the infection rate going up, they wanted some more time to see where it’s going to go.”
While Jan. 4 will be the earliest that Frontier League schools begin playing low- and moderate-risk sports, what comes after that is still yet to be determined. With positive COVID-19 cases rising in the north country, there is still some uncertainty surrounding school and athletics. Many of the swim meets, for example, are expected to be virtual meets.
“They’re looking at potentially having eight contests, tentatively Gouverneur is going to join the Frontier League (for swimming) as they have in past years, that gives us seven teams,” Connell said. “So, you play everybody once for six, then the last two weeks will be against teams with comparable records. So, I think what they’ll do for those teams that don’t have a win, they’ll schedule against a team that has one or two wins and so forth. All meets will be virtual unless the two schools competing at that time agree to swim in person.”
Jan. 4 is also the date that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association had set for the start of winter high-risk sports, i.e. basketball, wrestling, hockey and volleyball.
So far, most schools are in favor of virtual swim meets without spectators. Patti LaBarr, Watertown’s superintendent and a former swim coach, suggested using the software Meet Manager to help facilitate a virtual race.
When the four Lewis County schools decided to go ahead with low- and moderate-risk fall sports, Jefferson and Lewis counties had mostly been spared the worst of the coronavirus. Since then, the region has experienced more outbreaks and a rising number in cases. However, Connell is still confident that interscholastic athletics can continue.
“I’m still interested in moving forward with them,” Connell said. “Schools, and listening to (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) speak, I completely agree with him, schools are the safest place for kids. And if we don’t offer them sports, then they are going to go play somewhere else and it’s not going to be regulated like we are forced to regulate them. Again, if we’re in session and it’s safe to be in school, then we’re hoping that it’s also safe to play sports.”
For coaches, who by this point would be in full beginning their winter seasons, having to wait for the “go ahead” is frustrating.
“It is definitely hard to plan and prepare in advance given the uncertainty of the virus,” Lowville boys swim coach Eric Virkler said in an email. “Although it is very unfortunate for our athletes to not have a regular season, I think any activity we can have will be good for the students. We look forward to getting time in the pool and will do our best to motivate the swimmers to reach for personal goals in any way they can.”
If the coronavirus continues to spread in north country communities, it could have affect the decisions superintendents make for their schools.
“I think that the schools are doing a great job of keeping the students safe, as far as mitigating any risks,” LaBarr said. “I think we have great protocols in place. But because of the number of positive cases that are increasing in our community, that is what is impacting the decisions that are being made in schools, in my opinion.”
Watertown was one of the 13 Frontier League schools that elected to postpone their fall sports to the Fall II season. The remaining four Frontier League schools, Beaver River, Lowville, Copenhagen and South Lewis, ended up competing in what resulted in two weeks of practice and roughly two weeks of competition.
LaBarr watched that, getting an outside view of how interscholastic athletics look in the age of COVID.
“I think that knowing that even the spectator aspect, or offering the virtual option, or thinking of the difference between the outside sports and inside sports and what they learned,” LaBarr said. “They did say that swimming was one of the biggest struggles for them because of the spectator space. But it wasn’t just the spectator space ... swimming was one of the more difficult things they had.”
The swimming teams that participated in the fall were only a week into their season when all athletics ended prematurely due to rising cases in Lewis County.
Times sportswriter Dan Mount contributed to this report.