The waiting game remains, but that doesn’t mean state athletic officials haven’t set about trying to figure out a game plan for high school athletics in the coming school year.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association COVID-19 Task Force has revealed potential scenarios for the return of sports to high school campuses in 2020-21.
Baseball in the fall? Football in the spring?
Those are among a multitude of possibilities the task force discussed in meetings June 10 and 30 while coming up with six potential wide-ranging scenarios involving schools open for in-person learning, schools providing only distance (virtual) learning and schools offering a hybrid combination of both. Sports have been categorized as low, medium or high risk, with proposals that sports seasons be adjusted. Some designated low-risk sports (such as baseball, softball and girls lacrosse) may be played at the beginning of the school year while high- and moderate-risk sports (including football, soccer and boys lacrosse) may be contested in the spring.
Scenarios also address schools opening with a hybrid or virtual education and no athletic participation at the start of the school year, in which case condensed seasons may be played instead of canceling the fall season and the start of the winter season. “This will provide schools districts the opportunity to adapt to a new school setting before addressing extracurricular participation challenges,” said the task force.
Another proposal addresses regional differences in start dates, learning platforms, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Sports seasons would be amended on a regional basis, with no statewide consistency in sports seasons and no state championships.
Regardless, safety will be the top priority, the task force said. A low priority is being placed on the allowance of fans at games or contests and the staging of state championships.
“I think the number one priority no matter what is the safety for our students and our coaches and everyone in the Riverhead School District, and I think that’s the way we move forward,” Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks said in a phone interview.
The task force stated that until guidance and direction is provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Education Department, “there is no definitive date for a decision to be made.”
Following the June 30 meeting, NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas tweeted:
Zayas has estimated that it would take six weeks for schools to prepare for whatever course is taken, according to Newsday. Meanwhile, athletic departments remain in a holding pattern.
“It’s like waiting for something to come in the mail,” Greenport athletic director Chris Golden said. “You go to the mailbox every day and you wait for that letter to come and it doesn’t come. We’re waiting to see what Governor Cuomo will ultimately decide in school reopening.”
Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth said the task force has done a thorough job. “I give credit to the task force for looking at options under this situation for kids to be able to participate in sports in some shape or form,” he said. “I think you have to be very creative and I think that’s what they’re doing. It’s all so unknown. I like the path that they’re on.”
Individual school districts are in different situations. The identical $147.1 million Riverhead school budget proposal that went down in defeat last month will be put before voters for reconsideration July 28.
In smaller school districts like Mattituck, one concern would be fielding, say, four boys or four girls sports in one season, just because it might be a problem finding enough athletes to fill those rosters. “There’s no way I could do that,” said Wormuth.
Golden said, “There are certain sports, like if you put up girls soccer against girls lacrosse and field hockey, one of those sports is not going to fare very well.”
Wormuth sees the opportunity for permanent change to come out of this possible experimentation, such as flip-flopping seasons based on weather (for example, playing baseball in the fall and soccer in the spring).
Meanwhile, the first day of high school sports, scheduled for Aug. 24, is fast approaching. Schools are proceeding as if that is when sports will return, even if they don’t know what sports will be played in the fall.
“We are all prepared for all systems go on August 24th,” Wormuth said. “So, we’re ready in that regard, but we got to be ready to change, too.”
Sacks was asked if he had any idea when word will come down on what will be done with school sports in 2020-21.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing.”