CANTON — Following Monday’s mid-day protest calling for greenlighted high-risk winter sports seasons in downtown Canton, students and parents spoke to St. Lawrence County lawmakers.
The full county Board of Legislators heard from student athletes and parents representing hockey teams in Canton, Massena, Parishville, Salmon River and Ogdensburg. About 50 people gathered on Main Street earlier in the day, and about 10 people read statements to the board in person Monday night, all urging legislators to “let them play.”
The state Department of Health on Jan. 22 issued updated COVID-19 guidance for high-risk winter sports, including ice hockey, wrestling, basketball and volleyball. High-risk sports practices and competitions were officially permitted Monday, as long as local health officials approved participation.
The St. Lawrence County Public Health Department responded to the updated state guidance last week, issuing its own protocol recommendations should school districts and organizations decide to resume high-risk sports.
School officials in Section 10, comprised of 24 school districts in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, on Friday announced high-risk sports practices and competitions would continue to be paused. The Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES and St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES cited the ongoing health crisis and jointly stated: “due to concerns about logistics necessary to make these programs safe and successful, Section 10 school districts are not ready to commence high-risk winter sports.”
Several Section 10 school districts have shifted to remote learning in the last two weeks as confirmed cases of COVID-19 and potential exposures have prompted teachers and students to quarantine. Canton, Clifton-Fine, Gouverneur, Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton, Madrid-Waddington, Morristown, Ogdensburg, Parishville-Hopkinton and St. Lawrence Central school districts all switched to remote learning last week.
As of Monday, 922 COVID-19 cases are active in St. Lawrence County, and 67 people have died of complications from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Preparedness plans with state and local public health criteria will continue to be developed, according to the joint BOCES statement, “so that when feasible, a return to high-risk athletics will be as safe as possible.”
Student and parent commenters expressed concern about depression and declining mental health among student athletes not able to gather for training.
Angela R. Frost, mother of three current Massena Central School athletes, told legislators she worries students have little to look forward to and is frustrated with the Section 10 decision.
“Since we were first hit with this pandemic in March, our kids have had a rug ripped out from underneath them more times than I can put into words,” she said, adding that when the state’s allowance was announced Jan. 22, the athletic community was excitedly hopeful. “For the first time in a very long time, I saw hope in my kids’ eyes for the future. Then it happened again — the rug was ripped out from underneath them on Friday as we were devastated when we heard the news that St. Lawrence County Public Health had given us the go-head with guidelines, yet our district leaders said, ‘No, we aren’t ready.’”
A Salmon River hockey player said she’s “deeply heart broken and outraged” that she will likely not celebrate a senior night game, and Massena high school hockey coach Michael J. Trimboli asked for the chance to show school districts and local leaders that hockey play could be implemented in a healthy and successful way.
“For their future, for their mental health and for their memories,” Mrs. Frost said, “please let them play.”