CANTON — Let the 2021 high school basketball and hockey seasons begin.
At least, for now.
“On paper, we’ve mapped out schedules with games due to start on March 1st, but things being the way they still are with COVID, those schedules are always subject to change,” said Carl Normandin, Executive Director of Section 10 Athletics. “Our objective has always been to provide as many competitive opportunities for our student-athletes as possible, whether it’s being able to practice or compete against other schools.”
“The primary goal this winter, just as it was with our fall season, is to ensure the safety of all those involved with athletics,” he added.
Nearly a year has passed since New York State first shut down high school athletics due to rising concerns over the encroaching coronavirus pandemic. Over the summer, the state released its first set of guidelines for the return of scholastic sports. The guidelines included a rating system that established the difference between high risk and low-to-moderate risk sports.
Considered high risk, the sports of basketball and hockey saw the start of their seasons delayed. Their status was placed on indefinite postponement by the state until late January.
According to Normandin, all the schools slated to field basketball and hockey teams have had their plans approved but as of Tuesday, three districts were continuing to debate whether or not to compete in the abbreviated winter sports season that would run until March 31. Those school districts included Canton, Massena and Potsdam. Normandin said that those districts were scheduled to hold Board of Education meetings over the course of this week to make a final decision. On Monday, the Chateaugay Board of Education voted not to go ahead with high-risk sports.
The winter sports season in Section 10 includes teams from four different counties. Most are located in St. Lawrence County with the rest hailing from Franklin, Lewis and Essex counties. Clifton-Fine is the only school district that is not slated to field basketball teams this winter but players are being allowed to compete at Harrisville as part of a merger agreement. The lone school in Lewis County, Harrisville has been playing games for more than a week against nearby schools who usually compete in Section 3 as part of the Frontier League. The combined Saranac Lake-Lake Placid girls hockey team, the only winter sports program in Section 10 from Essex County, will not be competing this season due a lack of ice at the Saranac Lake Arena.
The other five schools based in Franklin County — Brushton-Moira, Franklin Academy (Malone), Salmon River, St. Regis Falls and Tupper Lake — are slated to compete just within their county.
While state and local guidelines recommend all athletes and coaches be tested for COVID prior to each game, testing in not required as long as schools follow other strict pre-screening guidelines. Normandin said that the Franklin County schools will all require testing while the schools in St. Lawrence County who have committed to participating in winter athletics, will not.
“Testing is one of the issues that some schools are dealing with,” he said. “It would be nice if everybody was on the same page but that’s a decision that each school district has had to make.”
This winter, there will be no league or playoff champions crowned for any sports and the state has already announced the cancellation of all its postseason tournaments and events. Instead of divisions, the schools competing in Section 10 will be grouped together based solely on location. These groupings are being labeled as ‘cohorts’.
The cohorts for basketball have been tentatively established while the hockey alignments are still being worked out. According to Normandin, each school within a cohort is scheduled to only play against the other schools. Since the Franklin County schools have chosen to compete solely within their county, they will form one of the cohorts.
As of Tuesday, there were three groupings for the remaining teams from St. Lawrence County. One cohort included Colton-Pierrepoint, Norwood-Norfolk, Parishville-Hopkinton, St. Lawrence Central and possibly Potsdam depending on the outcome of the school board’s pending decision regarding testing. Should Massena move ahead with plans to field teams, it would be grouped with OFA, Lisbon and Madrid-Waddington. The other cohort consists of Edwards-Knox, Gouverneur, Hammond, Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton and Gouverneur.
“Boys basketball is scheduled to have games on Mondays and Thursdays. Girls basketball will go on Tuesdays and Fridays. Hockey is scheduled for Wednesdays and Saturdays but depending on the availability of ice time, we might have games on Fridays and Sundays,” Normandin said.
“We have a 30-day time frame but we’re going to be plotting things out week-to-week,” he added.
Normandin also stated that while players and coaches should expect to see few differences in the way games will be played, there would be obvious changes on the sidelines, benches and in the stands.
“All players, coaches and officials will be required to wear masks but other than that, the games should pretty much resemble what players have experienced before,” he said. “The big changes in what we’ll see have to do with social distancing on the benches, the constant cleaning of shared equipment, no sharing of water bottles, things like that.”
“No spectators will be allowed but most events will be available for live-streaming and links to those events can be found on school websites,” he added.
The nearly four-month long delay in starting the winter sports season is already having a direct effect on the Fall Sports Season II, which is still slated to begin March 22 and conclude in late April. Among the sports scheduled for the second fall season are football, girls volleyball and girls swimming. The state has already announced that athletes would be allowed to compete in two sports at the same time but a small number of schools in Section 10 — Franklin Academy, Potsdam and St. Lawrence Central — have already decided to end their winter seasons on March 21 to avoid any overlap with their other traditional fall sports teams.
“The preparedness plans that have been approved for the winter sports cover from now to the end of the school year so schools won’t have to go through the whole process again for the second fall season,” Normandin said.
As of Tuesday, among the boys basketball games scheduled for this coming Monday are, Massena at OFA and Norwood-Norfolk at Colton-Pierrepont, while the Salmon River girls are due to host Franklin Academy.
The first high school hockey games are tentatively slated for Tuesday with the St. Lawrence Central boys taking on Massena at the Tri-Town Arena starting at 7 p.m. while the Massena girls play host Salmon River at the Massena Arena starting at 6:15 p.m.