Malone and Massena compete in the Section 10 Class A boys soccer championship game last season in Potsdam. Alain St. Pierre/Johnson Newspapers

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association released its Return to Interscholastic Athletics guideline Friday evening.

The 49-page document covers important dates, protocols for each fall sport and considerations for facilities among other factors involved in playing high school sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document mostly presented information that the NYSPHSAA had already made public, and presented it in easy-to-read format.

High school fall sports throughout most of New York — Section 8 delayed its fall season to the spring and Section 1 delayed the start of its fall season to Sept. 29 — will begin practicing Sept. 21 with low/moderate risk sports being cleared to play games after 10 practices.

To determine the measures needed to safely play sports this school year, all sports were broken down into three categories based on their ability to maintain physical distance.

Low-risk sports have the greatest ability to maintain physical distance while high risk sports have the least ability to maintain physical distance, moderate sports are somewhere in between.

High-risk fall sports such as football and volleyball are allowed to practice starting Sept. 29, but are not yet permitted to play by the state.

In its outline for both football and volleyball protocols, the NYSPHSAA wrote that it is working on getting more guidance for those sports. As it stands now, football and volleyball are only permitted to conduct skill based practices that don’t involved intentional contact — therefore no tackling in football.

While the state association provided the Sept. 21 start date, sections are at liberty to set their own start and end dates, as long as it is after Sept. 21. The season cannot exceed 15 weeks. After Oct. 19, teams will be able to compete against schools outside of section/region.

The NYSPHSAA also determined that as of now the winter season will begin on Nov. 30 and spring season on March 15. Both of those dates are subject to change.

The current focus is on fall sports, so information regarding winter and spring sports was limited to just those tentative dates in the Return to Interscholastic Athletics guideline.

No matter when each section decides to begin its fall season, it will not culminate with a state title in 2020. It is up to the sections to determine whether to hold a section championship.

Much of the time line for when fall sports will be played will be left up to the sections, some of which have already delayed their fall starts.

The NYSPHSAA’s primary goal is to provide a safe and full regular season for all of the state’s student athletes. It will require some general game day adjustments.

The document states that there should be no hugging, high-fives, shaking hands or fist-bumps at athletic events in 2020, and coaches should clearly communicate these guidelines to players and parents.

The Return to Interscholastic Athletics guideline states multiple times its expectations for student athletes, coaches and trainers as it pertains to social distancing and wearing PPE during athletic activities:

“In accordance with NYSDOH guidance … responsible parties must ensure a distance of at least 6 feet is maintained among individuals at all times, whether indoor or outdoor, unless safety or the core activity (e.g. practicing, playing) requires a shorter distance. If a shorter distance is required, individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing); provided, however, that coaches, trainers, and other individuals who are not directly engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering.”

Its most comprehensive section outlines the state associations’ guide for operating each individual fall sport. And within each sport, there are considerations for officials, coaches, students and parents to take into account. Much of the considerations revolve around enforcing social distancing, when possible, and use of personal face masks. The responsibility to enforce these rules will fall on the schools for the most part. Game officials, who have their own set of COVID-related rules to follows, can enforce guidelines as they directly pertain to the game. For example, a soccer goalie is not permitted to spit into his or her gloves, if they do, the referee has the power to have the gloves removed from the game.

Other in game rule adjustments are minor and were put in place to either limit the unnecessary congregation of athletes/coaches and to reduce the sharing of equipment.

While the Return to Interscholastic Athletics guideline was designed to help ease schools into athletics, much of how a school handles its sports will be up to its district. Districts will determine how their school(s) handle junior varsity and modified sports. Districts will also be responsible for working with local and state health officials to determine when an individual who screened positive for COVID-19 symptoms can return to in person learning at the school.

Under “Confirmed Cases and Return to School” the guideline states:

“This return to school protocol shall include at minimum documentation from a health care provider following evaluation, negative COVID-19 diagnostic test result and symptom resolution, or if COVID-19 positive, release from isolation Responsible Parties should refer to DOH’s ‘Interim Guidance for Public and Private Employees Returning to Work Following COVID-19 Infection or Exposure’ regarding protocols and policies for faculty and staff seeking to return to work after a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or after the faculty or staff member had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19.”

The guideline also states that according to New York State Department of Health guidance, if a school closes for in-person learning throughout the year due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, school-sponsored athletics will also be suspended until in-person education resumes.

You can read the report in full at

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Sports Writer

Beat writer for Section 3 high school football, Frontier League boys and girls basketball, Frontier League baseball and Frontier League softball.

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