CANTON — No room for error.
That’s what Carl Normandin, executive director of Section 10 athletics, sees when it comes to possibly restarting the high school sports season for the fall in the era of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re still in a holding pattern until we get the documents from the state listing the specific guidelines and protocols. We were hoping to have them available to all the districts and sections by the end of the week but I’m guessing now we should have them by the middle of next week,” said Normandin, who also sits on the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s COVID-19 Task Force, which was formed in early June after the cancellation of the remaining winter sports championship tournaments and events in mid-March and the subsequent suspension of the entire spring sports season.
“Governor (Andrew) Cuomo has said that we would be able to start on September 21 so we’ll only have a few weeks to get things in place once we get the guidelines out to everyone,” he added. “Once we do start back up, we can’t take any chances. We have to be batting a thousand. Nobody wants to be the school district that becomes the first to be the root cause of an outbreak.
“This fall isn’t just about having athletics for one season. We want to be able to play in the winter and the spring and how we handle ourselves in the fall will be impacting the remainder of all our sports.”
NYSPHSAA sanctions a total of 10 varsity boys and girls programs in the fall. The association has already announced the cancellation of its fall championships and events, which were scheduled to run from the final weekend in October to the first weekend in December.
Section 10 varsity athletic programs include football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming and girls volleyball. According to recently announced state standards, soccer, cross country and girls swimming are considered low-risk and will be allowed to begin playing games following their six days of practice.
Football and volleyball teams can also start practicing Sept. 21 but as high-risk sports, they will not be permitted to compete until Oct. 19. The state has also announced that no teams will be allowed to travel outside their sections for games.
“Teams will all have general guidelines to follow but each sport will have its own set of protocols, and that’s where we are still looking to the state for guidance,” Normandin said.
“All the guidelines that are being put into place are designed to minimize physical contact with objects and between players. In soccer, for instance, whenever the ball goes out of bounds, it will have to be cleaned with a sanitizer before it can be brought back into the game. One of the reasons volleyball is considered high-risk is that players are continually making contact with the ball between points,” he added. “And football is high-risk because of the constant close physical contact.”
Normandin also noted that strict social distancing and personal health guidelines will not only apply to athletes. Current state mandates limit public gatherings to 50 people and the difficulty in trying to control the number of spectators attending games will likely cause the section to exclude fans from sporting events. The section is also considering how to deal with merger agreements that allow student-athletes to compete for neighboring school athletic programs that aren’t offered by their home district.
“It’s all about minimizing risk within each district,” he suggested.
With most schools having adopted hybrid schedules for the 2020-21 school year, Normandin said the districts would have to come up with a way to accommodate student-athletes on days when they wouldn’t be required to attend classes on campus.
“Once seasons get started, teams usually have something going on after school just about every day whether it’s practice or a game. With kids taking turns going to school a couple of days a week, they are going to have to figure out a way to get to practice on the days when they’re online for classes,” Normandin said.
“At the moment, I don’t know what coaches are going to do during the week to adjust to the hybrid schedule but I do see us scheduling a lot of events for Saturdays and Sundays. At this point,” he added, “we just want to do whatever we can to create the opportunity for kids to participate in athletics.”