The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted Wednesday to delay its “high” risk fall sports — football and volleyball, and competitive cheerleading’s fall season — to what executive director Robert Zayas termed a “second fall season” that will start March 1 of next year and run through the end of April.
As reported by The Daily Gazetteof Schenectady, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced last month that “high” risk sports could practice starting Sept. 21, but could not play until given further approval. Without knowing if competitions would be able to be played in 2020 in those sports, the NYSPHSAA acted Wednesday to put in place a plan to allow for cheerleading, football and volleyball athletes a better chance to compete before the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
“During a crisis like this, we have to be flexible,” Zayas said of a decision that will affect thousands of athletes. “We have to be open to being innovative. We have to be open to being creative, and we have to be focused on doing what’s in the best interest of the student-athletes that we serve.”
Already this year in a state that has recorded approximately 445,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 30,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database, the end of NYSPHSAA’s winter sports season was canceled, the entirety of the spring season was wiped out and the start of the fall season has been delayed a month. While other fall sports remain on track to start practicing Sept. 21 and the state’s COVID-19 infection rate has been below 1 percent for more than a month, Zayas said the challenges of conducting “high” risk sports without knowing when competitions could, if ever, start this fall were too difficult.
“Over the course of the past two days, I have hosted seven Zoom meetings for nearly 500 athletic directors,” Zayas said Wednesday night during a Zoom conference with reporters. “And I have listened to the concerns of those athletic directors. I’ve listened to them express their questions and their concerns about high-risk sports. This decision is being made as a result of listening to our membership and attempting to assist them with the hosting of high-risk fall sports at some point during the 2020-21 school year.”
Teams in those postponed fall sports, Zayas said, will be allowed to work out this fall, in accordance with state department of health regulations. Zayas also confirmed that NYSPHSAA will still not sponsor state tournaments for the sports postponed Wednesday.
The decision brought disappointment, but some relief, according to the Gazette.
“I am sitting here for the first time in a long time knowing we have a decision and there is a plan,” said Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball head coach Gary Bynon, whose Spartans have won seven state championships. “That is a good thing. Now it’s time to move forward.”
“I’m just excited that a decision was finally made after all this time,” Shenendehowa football head coach Brian Clawson said. “The last six months, it’s been a long wait for everyone. You know a lot of people in New York wanted to play football in the fall. We weren’t able to do that, but we’re excited that there will be a spring football season, and we’re hoping to be able to compete in a full regular season and sectionals.”
“It’s obviously hard for us, especially the past couple weeks on Friday night and Saturday, all day, watching the high school kickoff classics going off all across the country — especially in states with infection rates where some of them are 15 times higher than ours in New York,” said Amsterdam football head coach John Homich, who was hired in February. “Sitting back and watching them play, and we’re just sitting here for the past three or four weeks waiting for a decision, it’s tough. It was starting to take a toll on the kids.”