As high school soccer and cross country teams get set to start the 2020 Section 10 fall sports season Monday, area football programs continue to play the waiting game.
“I think it’s been harder on the kids more than anyone else,” said Potsdam Central varsity football coach Jim Kirka. “We just haven’t been able to give them any answers when they ask what’s going on.”
“At least now the state has come up with a way for us to have some kind of a season,” he added.
After shutting down schools in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced in late August that high school sports that would be allowed to begin practicing on Sept. 21. When the original announcement was made by the state, all sports were ranked from low risk to high risk based on health and safety criteria set by the state’s Department of Health.
Football, along with girls volleyball and competitive cheerleading, is considered high risk and although teams would have been able to practice starting on Monday, a state mandate would not allow for games until October 19 at the earliest. According to the state’s Return to Interscholastic Athletics guidelines, high risk sports are described as having “the least ability to maintain physical distance and/or be done individually” along with “the least ability to; avoid touching of shared equipment, clean and disinfect equipment between uses by different individuals and not use shared equipment at all.”
Last Friday, however, NYSPHSAA announced the unprecedented creation of a fourth season for high risk sports. Called “Fall Sports Season II”, it is scheduled to run from March 1 until mid-April. Other changes have been made to the traditional timeframes for the winter and spring sports seasons as a way to avoid overlaps and conflicts. The winter season is now scheduled to start Novemvber 30, two weeks later than the original start date, while the opening date for spring has been pushed from March 15 to April 19. The state already canceled all fall sports championship tournaments and events in mid-July but still plans on holding winter and spring championships.
“We’ve spent two days speaking with nearly 500 athletic directors across the state and it’s clear that administering high-risk fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a significant challenge for our member schools,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director in announcing the changes made to the scholastic sports seasons. “These are unprecedented times and unfortunately, difficult decisions will have to be made to address this ongoing crisis. We continue to stay committed to providing support to our member schools and quality participation experiences for the students we serve.”
Any Section 10 football season, regardless of when it’s played, would likely consist of an abbrievated schedule of four games or less. The state has already announced a reduction in the number of required practices for football players from 12 days to 10 and will begin waiving its seven-consecutive day rule, which calls for one day off from practices and games every six days, on October 12.
“Not having football in the fall is obviously not what we wanted but at least we have some answers now,” said St. Lawrence Central varsity football coach Bruce Truax. “We’ve really had little to go by since March. I’ve gotten a lot questions from kids who have contacted me and saying, “I don’t know” gets very frustrating.”
“Now I have an answer for when we are supposed to have a season and until the school district gives me the nod that we can get started, I’ll keep following the rules,” he added. “I can tell you one thing though, not one kids that I’ve talked to since the state changed the season has said that the ideal stinks. They just want to get out and play.”
While football teams can not formally begin practicing until March 1, NYSPHSAA regulations do allow for school sponsored off-season training activities such as general conditioning, weight training, weight lifting, intramurals, recreation, open gyms, club activities and camps as long as they are not mandated by coaches or school personnel and available to all students. Unfortunately, the weight rooms and gymnasiums used for informal training by student-athletes are still off-limits in many school districts.
“I was actually looking forward to having some kind of a season in the fall, even if it was just to practice,” said first-year Massena Central varsity football coach Austin Coleman. “I was named football coach in early March and the state closed schools down a week later so I haven’t really had much interaction with the players.”
“It would have been nice to get in some practices so that I could introduce the kids to a new offense and to a new system and to let them know about my coaching philosophy,” he added. “For now, I’m just crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to get school up and running and that eventually, we’ll be able to fit a football season in.”