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Omicron variant aside, high school winter sports seem to remain relatively healthy

High school winter sports are still in play. And it sounds as if it may remain that way.

That doesn’t mean the COVID-19 omicron variant isn’t having an effect on the sporting world. At the same time, Suffolk County’s high school sports teams seem to be doing pretty well compared to professional sports leagues as far as the impact on schedules.

“Listen, overall, we’re doing OK,” Section XI executive director Tom Combs told The Suffolk Times. “We’ve had some schools that had to pause or postpone contests due to low numbers, due to COVID and other things, but basically we played the majority of our contests and kids have had the opportunity to participate, so we’re happy about that.

“I’m hearing war stories around the state when I talk to the executive directors from upstate, Buffalo and all over the place and they’re saying, ‘We can’t play anything in certain areas, on and on and on,’ so I’m happy that our kids have had the opportunity to play.”

Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the National Federation of State High School Associations executive director, said the surge in coronavirus cases is presenting challenges to the administration of winter indoor sports. “Several states have implemented mandatory wearing of masks for indoor sports,” she wrote in her regular column for the NFHS, “and a few states have vaccination and testing requirements; however, the good news is that as opposed to the 2020-21 winter season, thanks to implementation of mitigation strategies, no states have postponed winter sports or activities.”

Nor does it sound like there has been much talk about Suffolk putting a halt to its winter sports season.

“I’ve discussed it with superintendents, with athletic directors, but nobody feels that that’s necessarily,” Combs said. “The alternative right now is the kids have to wear masks indoors as do the fans, and other that, you know, we’re really, ‘Let’s play.’ Get the games in, compete and have fun, work together as a group. Nobody I’ve spoken with is saying, ‘I think we should shut it down,’ so I’m happy about that.”

Not only has Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth not heard discussion of a winter sports shutdown, but he noted the potential backlash such a move might create. “It’s one of those thing where I don’t think you’re going to get anybody to make that decision,” he said. “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. Nobody is going to take that leap of faith to make that decision.”

Regarding the possibility of a winter sports shutdown, Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks said, “We haven’t even broached it.” He added, “From what I heard from most people, we’re getting [the season] in.”

Greenport athletic director Brian Toussaint said, “The message has been so far to keep holding the course, and I haven’t heard anything about shutting anything down.”

It sounds as if the coronavirus impact has been relatively modest as far as local teams are concerned.

Has Riverhead had any cancellations or postponements because of COVID-related reasons?

“As of right now, no,” Sacks said last Thursday.

Shoreham-Wading River had one varsity boys basketball game canceled during the holiday break. “I can’t speak for other schools, but at Shoreham, it’s been really, really good, for the most part,” said athletic director Mark Passamonte.

Mattituck’s varsity boys basketball team dropped out of a tournament over the holiday break because of quarantines, said Wormuth. He said several junior high school sporting events were not held because of quarantining by other school districts.

Earlier this season, the a Greenport junior high school boys basketball team rescheduled a few games because of a couple of positive cases, said Toussaint. “We had a handful of athletes who missed some time, but not where we had to quarantine the entire team and end up missing games,” he said.

Niehoff said that while the omicron variant has presented additional challenges, “we are confident that state associations and schools will be able to keep high school activity programs up and going in our nation’s schools.”

She added, “While additional temporary restrictions may occur during the month of January as the current variant spikes, there is considerable confidence this year that a shutdown of activities is not necessary.”

Individual schools have adopted their own policies and procedures for spectators at indoor events. Riverhead is allowing four spectators per home athlete and three spectators per visiting athlete, plus up to about 80 students at high school sporting events. (For Riverhead Middle School, three spectators per home athlete are permitted, but no visiting fans). Greenport is allowing two spectators per home and visiting player. SWR has no restrictions on spectators.

Southold athletic director Steve Flanagan did not respond to messages.

Wormuth pointed out that a big chunk of the winter season is already in the books. Before long, the winter season will be approaching its final stretch.

“I’m optimistic that we almost made it through the winter and we almost made it through this season, and I am not at all concerned about the spring season, only because it’s outdoors,” he said. “So, I think we made it. If we can make it another month through indoor sports, then we’re going to make it through the year because we’re outside in March. On March 8th, we start outdoor sports, so, if we can hold on another month, a month and a half, I would say we’re in the clear.”

An entire school year without a sports shutdown. Imagine that.

“Oh, it would be a home run,” Combs said. “Again, I hate to keep saying the same thing — opportunities for kids, that’s what we’re all about. We want them playing as much as possible. If we can get the whole season in with just a very minor amount of disruptions, I think that’s definitely a success.”