While waiting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision on the fate of the upcoming school year, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association COVID-19 Task Force continues to weigh its options and prepare for any scenario thrown at them.
During its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the COVID-19 Task Force reviewed six of those scenarios, which include a full return to school, a hybrid model (partial distance learning, partial in classroom), a full virtual learning model and regional differences model.
A proposal for athletic participation was developed for each scenario and those proposals include a full return to athletic participation, potential adjustments of seasons and/or condensing all three seasons.
The task force plans to send the finalized proposals to NYSPHSAA membership by the end of the week in order to gather feedback.
“I think along with every school district in the state, we’re just trying to determine how are schools going to open in the fall,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said. “What’s going to be the guidance that is going to be provided to allow to schools to start the school year?”
Adjusting the seasons could mean many things. In the survey released by the Task Force at the beginning of the month, participants underlined how they would play a season even if it meant that there would be no state tournament. The ability to play, even just local regular season games, was more important.
Zayas said a delayed season is also a possibility and used soccer as a hypothetical example.
“If we, instead of playing soccer in the fall, play soccer at a different time of the year, or say, soccer season, not starting on August 24th, the season starts on September 24th,” he said. “A month later and we give ourselves some time for school to start and see what transpires. So much is just unknown and uncertain right now, it’s very difficult to pinpoint.”
All of these decisions can only come following Gov. Cuomo’s announcement on his plan for the upcoming school year, which is expected to be in mid-July.
Another point of discussion in Tuesday’s task force meeting was a screening application that schools could use to monitor student athletes for COVID symptoms and relay that information to school administrators and health care officials.
Paul Bailey, president of Total Concussion Management, presented to the task force the EzSCRN Application.
“It’s a company that we’ve been working with previously on concussion management,” Zayas said. “And what they’ve done is they pivoted as a result of the COVID crisis and they’ve taken their concussion management application and now adopted COVID signs and symptoms to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of COVID like they were previously recognizing symptoms of traumatic brain injury or concussion.”
The task force will continue to discuss this application, but a date for the next meeting has not yet been set.
Just like the NYSPHSAA and the COVID-19 Task Force, athletic directors are waiting to see what comes next.
A wrench was thrown into the timeline for when school-sanctioned athletic activity can begin when Gov. Cuomo’s office made clear that sports can come only once he gives the ‘OK,’ not when the region reaches Phase 4, which was the original impression by the NYSPHSAA.
“Everything has been so up in there with everything involved with sports coming back in the fall, we’re kind of just rolling with the punches,” Watertown athletic director George Emrich said. “We don’t really know what to expect. The word wasn’t put out to our coaches that we can do workouts and come back already. Even if the governor says it’s OK, the school districts and board of education need to give the OK, too.”
The fall season is scheduled to begin on Aug. 24, less than two months away. Not being able to predict how that start will be impacted, and plan for it, is frustrating for Emrich.
“I’m hoping that we get more direction after (the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force) meets a second time,” Emrich said on Monday, prior to the task force’s second meeting. “Maybe we’ll know what way to go. It’s hard right now, we don’t even know if we’ll have to buy face masks for everybody, if the referees are going to have them, if we’re going to have spectators. We don’t know when the kids can come back and do workouts over the summer and we’re concerned that the football team isn’t going to be able to do their typical preseason workout and that may lead to injuries if they have a season. Our weight room hasn’t been open, our pool hasn’t been open — there’s a whole bunch of stuff that we want to have happen this summer and it is frustrating not being able to plan for it.”
Despite all of the unknwons, Emrich remains optimistic on a season happening.
“We’re planning for a season,” Emrich said. “All of our schedules have been made, our soccer schedule is all set and ready to go and football (as well). I hope we have some sort of a season.”