Cuomo Gives OK To Begin Some School Sports Programs Next Month

Soccer is one of the sports that was given the go-ahead by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday. Michael Heller photos

High school sports will be returning this fall. Well, at least some of them will be, anyway.

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced during a media briefing on Monday afternoon that low-risk high school sports teams can begin practicing and playing on Monday, September 21. Those sports include cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and tennis.

Each will be required to follow COVID-19 protocols laid out by the Department of Health. Schools will have to limit capacity of indoor facilities to no more than 50-percent occupancy and limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player, in addition to implementing social distancing and face coverings.

“The question of youth sports has come up,” Mr. Cuomo said during the briefing. “The state has done a lot of research on youth sports and the guidance we’ve come up with is this.

What’s called lower risk sports: tennis, soccer, cross-country, field hockey, swimming can start in all regions of the state — can practice and play — starting September 21. So schools will be coming back, there will be a little bit of a period to gauge what’s happening and on September 21 they can start to practice and play all across the state. There is guidance posted by the Department of Health on just how they should do it.”

High-risk sports with full physical contact, such as football, may start practicing on September 21, Mr. Cuomo said, but are not yet authorized to play actual games. Included in that group was wrestling, a winter sport.

Golf, considered a low-risk sport that begins play in the fall, was peculiarly not included during the governor’s press conference, but many East End officials think that was a simple oversight and will be included in the sports that can play on September 21. Volleyball, though, which also typically begins play in the fall, was left off any list, leaving many unsure what’s going to happen with it.

In fact, some school officials, such Westhampton Beach Athletic Director Kathy Masterson, said she’s looking for clarification from the governor’s address, especially in regard to football, golf and volleyball.

“I’m excited, optimistic and nervous in the same breath,” she said Tuesday morning. “The last thing I want to do is give the kids any false hopes. The biggest thing I want is for them to play in the safest and healthiest environment that we can provide.”

“We’re doing this in phases,” Mr. Cuomo stated.

“We want to see what the effect is. We want to see how it works,” he said. “Schools opening in general is a big question mark. What would the effect be? The fall is a big question mark. Many of the experts are suggesting that there may be a second wave or reoccurrence, so phasing it will allow us to watch it.”

Mr. Cuomo added that “there will be no travel, practice or play permitted outside of the school’s region. So, a school can play in the region. They can play with the contiguous region [or] county but nothing outside of that until October 19.”

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the governing body of scholastic sports in the state, and its COVID-19 Task Force recommended in July that the start date of its fall season get pushed back nearly a month, from August 24 to September 21. At the same time, it also canceled all fall regional and state championship events.

Coupled with what was a cancellation of winter postseasons and an entire spring season, so there were questions surrounding whether there would actually be an upcoming fall season.

Now that at least some of the fall sports have been given the green light, there is reason for hope, Pierson Athletic Director Eric Bramoff said on Monday.

“I am so excited that we’re going to have some sports back,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I was very nervous, but I was hoping for this outcome because at least we have a chance now” to be able to get back on the field.

“I want everyone to understand that nothing is guaranteed,” he added, “but we have a chance to make this awesome. I’m excited for the kids as well as the coaches, who are equally champing at the bit to get back on the field.”

Not as enthusiastic was Westhampton Beach varsity football head coach Bryan Schaumloffel, who said his players and coaches, and therefore those throughout the state and county, are still very much in the dark.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” he said. “We were hoping to be able to play. We’re still hoping that there will be a positive outcome for football.

“There is a silver lining, I guess,” he added. “At least we’ll able to practice. But I’m going to hold my enthusiasm until after I see what they’re going to allow us to do. It’s going to be really frustrating to see the other sports participating and we’re not. I guess we’ll have to wait for guidelines from the state to the section and to our school district.”

NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said that once the governor announced his decision on fall sports, the following timeline will be followed: within 24 hours Section directors and officers will meet; within 48 hours, the COVID-19 Task Force will meet; and within 72 hours, officers will make any further decisions, if needed.

Bramoff and Masterson are both waiting on guidance from Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school sports, which they should get relatively soon. But even after getting guidance from section, it will be up to the school districts to come up with their own plans, which of course follow all of the state’s guidelines.

Bramoff said he will meet with his own school administrators to come up with their own plan and how to proceed going forward.

“This is not going to be a unilateral decision,” he said. “This will be a team decision with the administration team. There are many factors that have to be considered, the biggest thing is what’s right for our district. We have shared sports, busing, transportation. On any given day, we’re sending kids to East Hampton, receiving kids from Bridgehampton.”

Bramoff said that he’s hoping to have a plan in place for his sports programs that he can present to the public within 72 hours.

“There’s a lot of moving parts in a regular fall season, and now that we have all of this, schedules have to be rewritten … basically what we would normally do as athletic directors months in advance, we have to do in a very short amount of time. It’s a welcomed task and I’m grateful for it, we’ll just have to kick everything into hyper-drive as a section and as a school district.”