With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Monday that high school athletes could begin gearing up to play an abbreviated 2020 fall sports season, Northern Athletic Conference athletic directors began to finally see some light at the end of the coronavirus pandemic tunnel.
“It’s been a long six months and there are still a lot of things up in the air but at least the governor has given the go-ahead for us to start practicing September 21st,” said Massena Central athletic director Gavin Regan.
“I’m just glad our kids are going to have the opportunity to get out and have some fun and play sports again. And most importantly, stay healthy doing it,” he added. “At this point, we’re all just looking for more guidance from the state so that we can make sports happen.”
More formal guidance is expected to arrive later this week when the New York State Public High School Athletic Association is scheduled to announce the findings of its COVID-19 Task Force.
“As an athletic director, I’m excited that the governor has finally said something one way or the other,” said Potsdam Central’s Mark Wilson. “It’s good news but there are still a lot of unknowns. It raises a lot of questions and hopefully the state’s task force will have some of the answers.”
“Once the task force comes out with its guidelines, it sounds like it’s going to be up to each section to decide what exactly they are going to offer in the way of athletics,” he added.
NYSPHSAA sanctions a total of 10 fall sports and they have been split into categories based on physical contact. Low-risk sports that will be allowed to begin practicing for a limited game schedule include boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming, girls field hockey and girls tennis.
Football is considered a high-risk fall sport, along with boys and girls volleyball. While athletes will be allowed to participate in organized practices for those programs starting Sept. 21, no timeline has been announced for playing games and matches. While low-risk sports teams will be permitted to compete against league rivals, they will not be able to travel outside the section for games.
Massena, Potsdam, Canton, OFA and Malone are among the school districts in Section 10 that offer the majority of fall varsity sports programs.
According to the state’s timeline, all the sports would be allowed to begin organized practices with coaches on the same date, and after six sessions, teams in the low-risk category could start playing games. The NYSPHSAA has already canceled all of its 2020 fall championship tournaments and events, which would have run from the last weekend in October to the first weekend in December.
“Our athletes are required to have at least six practices and we would be able to start games the following week, which already takes us into the first week of October,” Wilson said. “We’re probably looking at playing just a league schedule and then having sectionals for soccer, cross country and swimming.”
Trying to fit a meaningful football season into the current time frame would be more problematic, Regan added.
“Players are going to be allowed to practice with their coaches but at this point, we aren’t even sure we’re going to have football games,” he said. “One of the questions I have is, will athletes be allowed to participate in another sport and still practice for football?”
Regardless of the sport, the main emphasis in the guidelines issued by the state Department of Health that are expected to be incorporated into the recommendations made by the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force will continue to focus on maintaining social distancing and safe personal health practices.
“We have guidelines that kids have to follow when they return to the classroom and anyone who doesn’t follow them will face being suspended. When we get the guidelines for playing sports, the athletes are going to be treated the same way,” Wilson said. “If they don’t follow the guidelines, they’re not going to be on the team. It’s that simple.”