Winter sports state championships canceled, start of ‘high-risk’ sports postponed

One of the top-ranking public high school sports officials in the state doesn’t have to be reminded about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on student-athletes. All he has to do is look across the dinner table every evening at one of those athletes — his daughter.

“I understand the frustration of being a parent because I, too, have a daughter that was looking forward to participating [in sports] this school year,” New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas said in a Zoom press conference Friday. “So, for all those parents out there that have to tell their children to be patient, I’m one of them and I understand how difficult that is.”

More patience is required.

That call for patience came with a double dose of disappointment. Earlier in the day, the NYSPHSAA announced the cancellation of all 2021 winter state championship events and the postponement of all high-risk sports until authorization is granted by state officials. The NYSPHSAA said these decisions were rendered with input from its membership and the state’s 11 section executive directors. Feasibility and logistics were considered, said Mr. Zayas.

In regard to scratching the winter state championships, Mr. Zayas said “schools were expressing concerns about putting students on buses for five or six hours at a time, about putting students in hotels for one or two nights. How are we going to feed those students once they get to that state championship event?”

In addition, venue capacity limitations and social distancing restrictions make it difficult to ensure the safety of student-athletes, coaches and families, said the NYSPHSAA.

The cancellations wipe out state championships in basketball, bowling, boys swimming and diving, competitive cheerleading, gymnastics, indoor track and field, ice hockey, skiing and wrestling.

Meanwhile, high-risk sports for all seasons remain on hold. Long Island public schools plan to hold their three sports seasons from January through June. Jan. 4 is to be the first day of winter sports practice for low- and moderate-risk sports.

Rising infection and hospitalization rates across the state have not provided an ideal setting for high-risk sports to be given the OK from the governor’s office. State officials said there is no target date for a ruling on high-risk sports.

The state Department of Health made sports risk assessments that were released June 18. Those sports classified as high-risk are: basketball, boys lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, football, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling.

During the press conference, Mr. Zayas was asked if the state was in essence just delaying the inevitable cancellation of high-risk sports. He vehemently denied that.

“We are not delaying the inevitable,” he replied. “We are not hiding anything. We are doing our best. We’re remaining optimistic and positive and we do have the goal of hosting high-risk sports this winter season. If and when that goal does not look as if it’s going to be able to be a reality, we have no problem making the decision and informing the general public and our schools of that decision, but right now we’re still optimistic that this can be done.”

NYSPHSAA president Julie Bergman, in a press release, said: “As an educator, I am witnessing first-hand the challenges our member schools are facing each day in addressing this pandemic. It is important we continue listening to the concerns being expressed by our membership when making decisions impacting interscholastic athletics.”

Mr. Zayas said: “A month ago I really felt like infection rates and hospitalization rates were where I would have thought we needed them to be and I thought we had the momentum to go ahead and get the authorization [for high-risk sports], but unfortunately, over the course of the last four or five weeks we’ve really seen infection rates and hospitalization rates increase, which has presented concerns to a number of different people within our organization, within school districts, so I wouldn’t say it’s concerning as much as we have to continue to be patient, and I know people don’t want to hear that, and I understand why, but that’s the reality of the situation.”