In a month, high school sports teams are scheduled to practice in preparation for a fall season. Whether the teams will be granted permission to compete remains questionable.
On July 13, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) announced that it had pushed the start date for high school scholastic sports to Sept. 21. Practices were originally scheduled to commence Aug. 24.
Fall sports include football, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ cross country, girls’ swimming, and girls’ tennis.
Since July, while there has been no further word on the fall, a number of club teams in sports ranging from volleyball to field hockey to lacrosse and basketball were allowed to practice and to compete throughout New York State.
Being in a state of limbo has athletic directors, coaches, and student-athletes dazed and confused as they await a decision from Gov. Andrew Cuomo about whether to go forward or to target a January start.
“Unfortunately, many of our athletes lived [through] this last spring, so the initial shock of losing a sports season is not something that is new to them,” Dobbs Ferry athletic director Andrew Klaich said. “The student-athletes I have spoken to have been in great spirits — they are very hopeful they will get a season in, but at the same time understand it is out of their control.”
He added, “Students are still very active in anticipation of an upcoming season. Many students are participating in small group workouts with their peers, and some are even playing in their respective club or travel leagues.”
Hastings outgoing athletic director Jesse Merchant, who will become the assistant director of interscholastic athletics for Section I on Aug. 28, has seen feelings rise as the summer nears an end and the start of the school year comes into focus.
“I believe we are seeing a significantly wider range of emotions from our coaches and student-athletes as we approach the school year,” Merchant said. “Our sports programs bring a well-needed source of belonging, physical activity, and authentic competition to our communities, but with this value comes some uncertainty.”
“At this time, I have had more conversations with parents than kids, and the message that I get from all of them is that their kids need to get back to sports,” Ardsley athletic director Mike Ramponi said. Ramponi added that for the most part, the parents’ interest is in the social-emotional aspect, rather than “the competition itself, which I totally understand and agree with.”
He continued, “Although we are not permitted to conduct interscholastic workouts of any kind, some of coaches are conducting Zoom meeting to go over film, provide individual workouts, and more importantly, just to stay in touch with their players.”
The majority of high school coaches maintain contact — via Zoom or social media — with their players as they prepare for a possible season.
“I have been in contact with my players through Google Meets and email since we left school [mid-March],” Hastings volleyball head coach Emily Kehoe said. “The girls are hopeful that we get to have some sort of season, although they are bracing themselves for the worst.”
She continued, “I wrote up a summer workout plan for varsity and JV volleyball, which some of the girls have been doing. Others found a workout routine during quarantine that they have been sticking to. I dropped off volleyballs to the girls who did not have one and have been sharing some ball control and skill drills that they can do by themselves.”
Kehoe added, “I think even if we start Sept. 21, coaches will need time to get kids physically ready to compete. There will be kids who worked out a lot since March and stayed active and there will be others that have done very little. Every August when we begin preseason, there is a wide range of physical preparedness for tryouts, and that is with no restrictions and only two months away from school. I anticipate the gap being even larger whenever we get the chance to start up this coming school year. Coaches will need time to prepare our athletes so they can safely participate at a competitive level.”
One positive is that most of the student-athletes remain upbeat.
“These are very hard times for young people, but they are all coping and making the best of a difficult situation,” Gina Maher, the Irvington girls’ tennis coach, said. “They are upbeat and positive and are obviously hoping the season will happen.”
Added Irvington cross-country head coach Chris Barry, “My runners are chomping at the bit.”
In that same July 13 announcement, the NYSPHSAA cancelled all state regional and championship games, and laid out a plan that would be implemented if the fall season is cancelled in its entirety whereby, beginning Jan. 4, all sports would be condensed into three “seasons” with sessions overlapping. The possibility of state championships being contested at the end of each of the three condensed seasons is not off the table.
The overlapping is a concern for schools in Section 1, which does not allow student-athletes to compete in more than one sport per season. Many other sections in the state do not enforce such a rule.
If the fall season is cut short or cancelled, the NYSPHSAA laid out a plan that will enable all sports to be contested from January through June over three segments, each 10 weeks in length.
Season 1, from Jan. 4 to March 13, would include boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, boys’ and girls’ indoor track, boys’ and girls’ skiing, wrestling, and competitive cheerleading. These are traditional winter sports. Depending on health conditions at the time, wrestling and cheerleading, because of the physical contact involved in both, may be moved to later in the school year.
Season 2, from March 1 to May 8, would include the traditional fall sports — football, boys’ and girls’ cross country, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ swimming, and volleyball. The NYSPHSAA noted that weather may impact the outdoor sports in this segment but did not have an alternate plan as of yet.
Girls’ tennis, normally a fall sport, had been shifted to Season 3 with the spring sports of baseball, softball, girls’ and boys’ golf, girls’ and boys’ lacrosse, boys’ tennis and boys’ and girls’ outdoor track and field. Season 3 is scheduled to run from April 5 to June 12.
Another concern is the wear and tear on a student-athlete’s body over such a condensed schedule, especially for someone playing taxing sports as wrestling, football, and lacrosse without a break from January through June.
“I believe that overuse is always a concern. even before the three-season proposal,” Klaich said. “Many of our student-athletes already play two to three sports for the school and have a very busy ‘out of school’ athletic schedule as well.” He believes all parties concerned “have to be mindful of overuse and need to plan accordingly — provide off days, breaks between seasons, strategic scheduling of games and the like.”
Ramponi is not an advocate of the condensed season plan.
“I'm not crazy about it for many reasons,” Ramponi said. “I don't like the idea of rushing a season, as we usually prepare the athletes for weeks if not months in advance. Safety will always be on the forefront of every decision we make, but I'm certainly not a medical professional so I'm not sure if there would be an increased risk for injury or not.”
He continued, “I also think condensing the three seasons will force some kids to make decisions not to play one sport to prep for another, which I'm never a fan of, but families will have to make difficult decisions. Your pure three-sport athletes will most likely push through and be fine, but I'm concerned about losing role players for teams that are vitally important to the success of any program.
“Certain sports will be hit differently than others,” he added. “For example, a baseball pitcher might not be ready if he is a multiple-sport athlete. Or a wrestler who is playing another sport might not have the time to safely get into shape. Billy Fon comes to mind from last year’s section championship football team, who eventually worked his tail off to get down to 220 pounds and resulted in a sectional title in wrestling. That would not be possible for a kid like Billy in a condensed three-sport season. There's just not enough time.”
Through all of this, though, one idea rings true.
“At the end of the day we need sports for these kids, and I will support them in any way I can,” Ramponi said.