The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced last week that it pushed the start date for high school scholastic sports to Sept. 21. Practices were scheduled to commence on Aug. 24.
Fall sports include football, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ cross country, and girls’ swimming and tennis.
The NYSPHSAA also cancelled all state regional and championship games, and laid out a plan if the entire fall season was cancelled. In that case, beginning Jan. 4 all sports would be condensed into three “seasons” that would overlap. The possibility of state championships being contested at the end of each condensed season is not off the table.
The overlapping season is a concern for schools in Section I, which does not allow student-athletes to compete in more than one sport per season. Other sections in the state do not enforce such a rule.
These decisions came at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA Covid-19 Task Force, after their July 16 meeting. All of this is contingent on the State allowing high schools to hold extracurricular activities.
The task force also voted to waive the seven-day practice rule and encouraged geographic scheduling of games.
There are still potential stumbling blocks to playing a fall season.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a fall season,” Dobbs Ferry athletic director Andrew Klaich said. He later added, “Needless to say, there are so many protocols that have to be put in place to ensure the safety of our students and staff members.”
Irvington Athletic Director John Buonamano agreed that the health and safety of students and coaches remain critical.
“Our ability to adhere to the guidelines established by the NFHS [National Federation of High Schools] and the NYSPHSAA Covid-19 Task Force will ultimately dictate the outcome,” he said.
Hearing that the state playoffs were axed hit hard at Hastings, according to athletic director Jesse Merchant.
“This was particularly hard to hear because of our community’s experience during our boys’ basketball season, and not being able to continue on in regional competition,” Merchant said.
He continued, “I think, with the precautions being taken at every level, [there’s] a good chance of being able to put together a meaningful experience for our student-athletes... The area that concerns me the most as we enter the fall is our collective ability to think outside the box.”
Ardsley athletic director Mike Ramponi has doubts about a fall season.
“Although I am holding out hope, I am becoming less optimistic as the colleges begin to shut down,” Ramponi said. “I feel the biggest challenges would be transportation and the handling of Covid-19-infected athletes. Do we just ask the infected athlete to quarantine or does the entire team have to quarantine? How can we assure families that there will not be rapid outbreaks once there is a positive test?”
He added, “Transportation becomes an issue as the number of students that can ride on the bus together due to social-distancing guidelines would make it cost-prohibitive for schools.”
If the fall season is cut short or cancelled, the NYSPHSAA has 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 I, 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. Depending on health conditions, wrestling and cheerleading, because of the physical contact involved in both, could be moved to later in the school year.
Season II, from March 1 to May 8, would include football, boys’ and girls’ cross country, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ swimming, and volleyball. The NYSPHSAA noted that weather could impact the outdoor sports.
Season III, from April 5 to June 12, would include baseball, softball, boys’ and girls’ golf, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, boys’ and girls’ tennis, and boys’ and girls’ outdoor track and field.
The overlapping of seasons poses a concern for athletic directors.
“Participating in one sport at a time is a part of the Section I Operational Standards which may need to be examined by the Section and the athletic administrators in each conference,” Merchant said. “With this said, even without a change to this rule at the local level, there are NYSPHSAA provisions that will help ease this transition.”
He continued, “NYSPHSAA allows athletes to accrue a portion of the required number of practices for a sport while finishing up another season.”
Dobbs Ferry, the smallest of the four Rivertowns’ districts, fills its rosters with a multitude of multi-sport athletes.
“This will certainly have an impact on our rosters and teams,” Klaich said. “Dobbs Ferry is a relatively small school and many of our student-athletes are two- and three-sport athletes.”
He added, “Since these are certainly challenging times, certain rules and regulations set by the State and section may have to be analyzed and adjusted to meet the needs of the current situation.”
Buonamano agreed, “Smaller schools depend on multi-sport athletes to secure rosters in some programs. The overlapping of seasons will most likely hinder those athletes from participating in multiple sports, and ultimately thin rosters of certain sports.”
Even though it is the largest of the Rivertowns schools, the overlapping scheduled would affect Ardsley, according to Ramponi.
“The condensed overlapping schedules would not work for most schools, especially Ardsley,” he said. “We simply do not have enough student-athletes to fill out rosters while we wait for one season to end. Proudly, most of our kids are multi-sport athletes, and we would never want them to choose one over the other.”
Ramponi added, “Our coaches have been working for years to build their programs to the level we have reached over the past few years. This would be a major setback in my opinion and would create tension within the department for coaches and students.”
While state playoff games are off the table for 2020-2021, Section I may hold postseason tournaments to crown sectional champions.
“I believe the athletic administrators of our section, together with the leadership of Todd Santabarbara from Section I, can provide an amazing championship experience right here within our section,” Merchant said.
The Hastings AD feels the elimination of the state playoffs will not have an adverse effect on the student-athlete.
“While many athletes put their head on the pillow each night thinking about winning a championship, I do not think the cancellation of fall regional and state championships will discourage students from participating in sports,” he said. “In fact, I think that sports, led by certified coaches with a focus on the educational experience of their student-athletes is in high demand. All of the athletes and coaches I have spoken with are very excited about getting back out to their field of play.”
Klaich concurred. “I believe our students just want to put on a school jersey with their friends and compete against a neighboring school,” he said. “They miss the camaraderie and competition and are looking for the opportunity to have some fun.”
Meanwhile, Ramponi knows some student-athletes may opt not to play this coming year.
“I hope this doesn’t discourage kids, but I totally understand if it does,” he said. “Families have to make choices with safety in mind and what works for their specific circumstances. Many will have to make tough decisions and we will support them in any way we can.”