By Keith Harrington
After nearly a year’s hiatus, high-risk high school sports such as basketball, wrestling and cheerleading may return next month in the Adirondack League schools.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health announced last Friday that high-risk winter sports can return on Feb. 1. These sports have been paused since last March to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
But In a previous discussion with Granville school superintendent Thomas McGurl, McGurl and the Board of Education agreed to not participate in high-risk winter sports, regardless of Gov. Cuomo’s decision.
“The Granville Central School District will not be participating in Adirondack League basketball or wrestling should they be allowed to proceed for the 2020-2021 season. This is due to a concern for student safety and in accordance with the medical advice we have received,” McGurl said via email.
Meanwhile, Whitehall superintendent Pat Dee was critical of Gov. Cuomo and his decision to put the decision on the shoulders of counties throughout the state.
“The Governor, who has repeatedly stated that, ‘only he will make the decisions,’ has punted the problem down the road to counties,” Dee said.
The decision to allow high-risk sports has been thrown into the lap of the county. Dee said that until the Washington County Department of Health decides, nor he or the Board of Education can make a call.
“To my knowledge, no regional county has made a determination,” he said.
The state’s announcement on Friday said:
“Effective Feb. 1, 2021, participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training and, further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments, only as permitted by the respective local health authorities, (i.e., county health departments),” the updated guidelines read.
The original date for high-risk sports to return was Jan. 4. With no approval from state officials, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association postponed the start date until further notice.
“We are extremely thankful to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health for providing authorization for all sports to begin,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director. “I am thrilled our association’s member schools will be able to provide over two hundred thousand students with valuable and beneficial participation experiences. Today is certainly a great day for the students of New York State.”
While low- or moderate-risk winter sports such as bowling, swimming, and skiing have been allowed to begin their seasons, the high-risk sports were on hold, pending guidance.
The state made it clear that regional health leaders should take into consideration several factors before approving games to be played. Local rates of positivity and transmission, the ability to enforce compliance, and whether new strains of the virus are present in given areas that need to be looked at before contests can take place.
Traveling for practices or competitions outside a school’s region remains prohibited.
School superintendents and boards will now have to decide whether to have their athletic teams participate. In the fall Adirondack League schools voted 8-6 to not participate in the high school sports season.
Recently state legislators became involved in the battle for high school sports to return. Assemblyman Colin Schmitt introduced legislation on Jan. 14 to bring back all interscholastic sports competition to New York. Several other politicians soon joined Schmitt. On Jan. 14, the New York State Athletic Administrators Association directed a letter to Cuomo advocating for a path to end the pause.
Student athletes, coaches, parents, and fans also tried to influence Gov. Cuomo with Twitter hashtags such as #LetUsPlay and #LetThemPlay. There was even a social media campaign from a group called New Yorkers for Student-Athletes.
The announcement could also be a positive sign for teams such as football, soccer, field hockey and volleyball that did not get to have a season in the fall. If a shortened winter sports season can be pulled off successfully it could open the door for the Fall Sports II season.
The winter season is currently scheduled to end on Feb 28. That makes for a very tight timeline. The proposed Fall II season to replace the season that was canceled is scheduled to commence on March 1 and run to April 30. Spring sports have been pushed back to a May 1 start date.
If nothing changes teams and the allowance of time is extended, teams will have a week to practice and three weeks to play games before the scheduled Feb. 28 season end date. There will be no sectional, regional or state competitions, as was previously announced.
Reporters Jay Mullen and Austin Crosier contributed to this report.