After a six-month absence, Section 10 sports are officially back.
The news was made official late Tuesday afternoon, after a meeting with school officials, that both soccer and cross country will be able to start practicing Monday. Swimming will be moved to the same spring season as football and volleyball because four area pools had work done over the summer and have not been able to be cleared yet because health officials have been busy with COVID-19 issues.
After a week of varsity practices a determination will be made about when junior varsity and modified programs can begin.
Massena has not conducted in-person classes yet, so athletic director Gavin Regan said live classes will have to return before teams can practice. The official date set for a return to classes is Oct. 13 but Regan said it’s possible students could be back by Sept. 28, depending on the COVID-19 situation in town. Malone and Salmon River may also have a slight delay in getting practices started for the same reason. There also is a chance not all 24 schools in Section 10 will compete but those opting out would be announced at a later date.
“As of when I left the office at 5 p.m., all of the schools that competed in varsity soccer and varsity cross country last year planned on fielding teams,” said Carl Normandin, Section 10’s executive director. “There are still a few districts that have to work out some logistical things and they will be starting a week later. The way things stand now, we’re not looking to start scheduling games and meets until October 9th at the earliest.”
The last athletic event featuring a Section 10 team was Madrid-Waddington’s boys basketball 68-52 victory over Section 7’s Moriah on March 11 in an opening-round game of the state Class C playoffs.
The expected opening date of fall competitions for Section 10 is Oct. 9.
Normandin sent an email Tuesday to area athletic directors and coaches announcing that Section 10’s school districts had approved the abbreviated fall season, starting as early as Monday.
“The state has come out with its health guidelines and the districts know what needs to be in place to maintain the safety of all the coaches and student-athletes,” Normandin said. “We’ve gotten over a major hurdle today with the districts choosing to have a fall season. Yes, we will be able to start the season, but if we aren’t all diligent and responsible we might not get the end that we’re hoping for.”
Local athletes have followed the news about their future since the day Gov. Cuomo announced which sports could begin play. Some, like Norwood-Norfolk junior Maddie Dinneen, won’t get a chance to showcase what they can do at the state level, but are looking forward to competing locally.
As a sophomore Dinneen finished eighth overall in the state Class C cross country championship race last year and two of the athletes ahead of her graduated. There will be no state championships in fall sports this year.
“It’s just amazing to hear (the season is back) after everything and all the uncertainty going on right now,” Dinneen said. “When I started my summer training I was really focused on a state meet and what I wanted to do there. When I found out that would be canceled, I was super disappointed at first. I changed my mind-set and my goals. I definitely race against myself, against the clock, no doubt. Because I have not raced in a long time, when I do get back, I want to go all out and push myself, even if I happen to be by myself in a race.”
Salmon River boys soccer coach Tim Cook does not know when he will hold his first practice with his team, but he does expect differences.
“I run a minor soccer youth program out here and we’ve already started, we have things we have to follow,” Cook said. “If we have to wear masks on the field, that probably will be the biggest (change). I think that would be biggest adjustment for kids, but one they’ll be willing to make if we get out there. I think with the drills you are definitely mindful of it. I do a lot of battle drills with kids in varsity stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised, when we get back to it, if the game emphasized a little bit more passing, if kids aren’t more hesitant to get in there and dig.”
Athletic directors, like Canton’s Bill Porter, are facing several logistical issues. A limit on spectators is expected so schools may try to get soccer games broadcast on sites like the NFHS Network, which costs $15 a month and airs games on its app or online site.
Porter said in some cases Canton may also try to set up its own live camera to air an event on the school website.
“We will ask for the support of our respective communities,” Porter said. “We can’t have people selfishly wanting to watch (athletes) play and ruining their chances for that to happen. I know we’ll get support because everyone wants to see this happen.”
With the NYSPHSAA already announcing the cancellation of its fall championship tournaments and events and the postponement of the start of the winter sports season from November 16-30, teams would have nearly two months to play games. At the moment, no games would be allowed outside a section before Oct. 19.
“I anticipate having a very abbreviated schedule for soccer of 10 to 12 games,” Normandin said. “For cross-country, we still plan on holding tri-meets along with two other meets with all the schools in the NAC.”
“Our goal at this point as a section is to get varsity soccer and cross country up and running,” he added. “It’s still too early to know it we would have time for sectional games.”
Despite gaining approval from the Governor’s office, the state, Section 3 and each affiliated league, the Oswego County athletic directors are scrambling to determine the fate of fall sports within their respective districts.
Central Square, Mexico, Phoenix, and Sandy Creek all confirmed plans to move forward with low-moderate risk fall sports, which consists of soccer, cross country, tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics and field hockey. No Oswego County school has announced plans to postpone their fall season due to COVID-19.
The low-moderate risk fall sports teams can begin practice as early as Monday while schedules, travel plans, safety guidelines, and a host of other details were still set to be addressed entering the week.
“We look forward to the opportunity to give our student-athletes the chance to play the sports they love, they haven’t done it in so long,” said Phoenix athletic director, John Jeffries. “We’re extremely excited and just want to make sure we’re doing things as safely as we possibly can to make sure our kids are given that great experience.”
He added: “There’s always that social, mental, and emotional health aspect of it, just getting kids around each other and doing it as safely as possible. That was a big part of it for us, the overall health and wellness of our kids.”
Oswego High School provided an update to its website on Sept. 11 with a letter from superintendent Calvin Mathis, stating that no decision had been made on the fate of fall sports, and Mathis confirmed via email Tuesday that the school was still deliberating.
Altmar-Parish-Williamstown had fall signups posted to its website but did not announce an official decision as of Tuesday, while Pulaski and Fulton also had yet to respond to questions regarding their respective plans for the fall entering the week.
For schools who intend to play, weather conditions and available daylight are hurdles to overcome as the season progresses into late fall. All sectional and state competitions have been canceled for the fall and teams are likely to experience a limited schedule consisting of close-aligned geographical opponents. Some districts, like Sandy Creek, will only field varsity teams for the fall season.
“We’re going to try it but we’re pretty limited,” said Sandy Creek athletic director, Mike Stevens. “It’s not an ideal situation, the thought being in all of this is that it’s an opportunity to get kids back playing sports that they like or love hopefully, just for the pure sake of playing and having fun. It’s not to compete for a championship, it’s about being able to get back some normalcy and enjoyment for an activity, health-wise, physically and mentally.”
Games will look notably different with several COVID-19 regulations anticipated. Athletic directors will be tasked with contact tracing, screening participants and limited spectators, setting indicators on the premises to avoid close interaction, just to name a few. Schools anticipate only two spectators per athlete allowed on site.
Players in area leagues are also expected to be required to wear face coverings while competing, and benches will be extended to allow for social distancing.
“I’m scratching my head a lot and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to follow all these mandates,” Stevens said. “We have a lot of work to do to be able to do this properly.”
He added: “If we can get a couple games and the kids can say they had fun, then that’s great. I don’t want any school to be left out of something because they made a decision and it backfired on them. No community is going to deal with that well. I don’t want to set kids up for more disappointment, but I don’t know how you do this without taking baby steps and seeing how it works.”
Sports writer Josh St. Croix contributed to this report.