Come the end of Friday, Section 3 hopes to have a decision on whether it will begin its fall sports season on Sept. 21.
To get an understanding of how its member schools feel about beginning athletics on that date, which is less than two weeks away, the section sent out a poll to all of its schools Tuesday with responses due back on Thursday. The poll asks that schools indicate whether they think:
A) All fall athletics should begin on the 21st including football, volleyball and competitive cheer (those sports will be able to practice, but not compete as of now);
B) All fall athletics start on the 21st except for football, volleyball and competitive cheer;
C) All fall athletics be postponed until after January 4, 2021.
The poll is required to be signed by the superintendent, athletic director and principal.
“Basically the members of (the Section 3) executive committee will take the input from all of our member schools and deliberate that information that was presented to us, and then make a final recommendation for either hosting fall sports this fall or postponing to a later date,” Section 3 executive director John Rathbun said.
Sections throughout the state are weighing their fall sports options, even with football, volleyball and competitive cheer competitions still on hold. Section 8 has already decided to delay its fall sports season until after Jan. 1 and Section 1 has postponed its fall season a week to Sept. 29. Section 9 is expected to release its guidance for the fall season Thursday.
“I know that most sections right now are in communication with their member schools and basically doing the same thing that Section 3 is in making that determination,” Rathbun said. “That’s one of the options Governor Cuomo has given each region within the state, to make their own determination on providing athletics and educational opportunities for their students.”
This action from Section 3, and the state’s other sections, comes after the New York State Public High School Athletic Association released its 49-page “Return to Interscholastic Athletics” guide on Friday evening. The guide touched on recommendations from the NYSPHSAA along with the New York State Department for Health on how to safely run practices, games and any other school-sanctioned athletic events. The language in the guide suggests that many decisions regarding playing athletics this fall will be left up to the individual school districts. Some ambiguous writing in the document leaves some of that guidance up for interpretation.
Repeated verbatim eight times in the document is a paragraph, pulled from the NYSDOH’s “Interim COVID-19 Guidance for Sports and Recreation” document, which outlines requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing for student-athletes during practices and games.
The guidance reads, “responsible parties must ensure a distance of at least six 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.”
To summarize, student-athletes should social distance while playing unless the “core activity” of the sport doesn’t allow them to (most team sports, such as soccer, do not), or wear a mask unless they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Scott Connell, superintendent and athletic director at Copenhagen, said that this guidance adds to the confusion in how high school sports can operate. According to that guidance, student-athletes can go about playing sports the same way they did last season, despite COVID-19 concerns — which almost directly contradicts in-person schooling regulations, which drastically altered schools’ day-to-day operations.
“That’s one of the challenges that I think every school district is facing,” Rathbun said. “You have strict guidelines for your gym class during the day and then all of a sudden at 3 p.m. there’s a different set of guidelines. You and I know that this pandemic doesn’t end at 3 p.m., so I think school districts are put in a very unique situation to try to make that discrimination on the language.”
Area schools have interpreted the social distancing and mask-wearing guidance for in-person education, handed down by the department of health, relatively the same. Connell believes most, if not all, area schools will interpret the recent athletics guidance the same as well.
Regardless, sports still remain up in the air, and Connell said he empathizes with students who are afraid of losing sports this fall and this academic year.
“I sit in the unique position, because I probably wouldn’t have graduated high school without sports,” he said. “I did my work in school to the best of my ability so I was eligible to play sports, if I didn’t have that, I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t mature enough back then to say ‘I have to study anyway so I can go to college and be a teacher someday.’ I didn’t know I was going to be a teacher until I was a senior in college. I went to high school and passed and went to college and played sports. Finally at 21 years old, I said I should probably start thinking, since I’m not going to the NBA, what I’m going to do with my life.
“The kids just want to play,” Connell said. “I think most of our kids respect the virus but don’t fear it and they want to play.”
Connell, as superintendent and athletic director, understands the fear of losing sports as well as the risks that come with playing.
“There isn’t a superintendent in the Frontier League who does not value athletics and know how important they are,” Connell said. “At the same time, our ultimate goal is to educate kids and keep them safe. And if you can’t do that with sports, we understand the ramifications of that, those are just decisions that need to be made and it’s not easy.”
Rathbun said that the timing in which school districts received this guidance from the NYSPHSAA, and the timing that the NYSPHSAA received guidance from the state has made making those decisions even harder.
“I know school districts have basically jumped through hoops just to open up, and they had weeks and months to develop a plan,” Rathbun said. “And now you basically put this in their lap and say ‘come up with a plan for how to do after-school activities in two weeks.’ It’s a very, very tough situation that all of our schools are facing right now and I’m not sure if schools have the resources and the manpower to move forward with that.”