Athletic directors at East End high schools were taking a wait-and-see attitude following the announcement last week by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association that the fall high school sports season will be delayed until September 21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start on August 24 as originally scheduled,” said Paul Harrica, NYSPHSAA president in a July 16 press release announcing the decision. “The priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”
The association also announced that all fall regional and state championship events would be canceled, rules requiring seven days of practice before the start of a season would be suspended, and districts would be encouraged to schedule athletic events as close to their schools as possible.
The association also announced that if fall seasons must be canceled, it would try to reschedule seasons for fall sports like football and soccer in the spring.
“I’m hoping we are able to get started come September 21, but I’m not that optimistic,” said Southampton athletic director Darren Phillips, who added that school districts are scrambling to put together reopening plans that could very well call for continued remote learning.
He said he anticipated a clearer picture emerging by the beginning of August when districts are required to submit those reopening plans to the state. “We can put in two weeks of work” trying to figure out schedules and other plans, he said, “and they can come out and say we don’t feel we can have kids playing competitive sports.”
Eric Bramoff, the athletic director for the Sag Harbor School District, agreed that it was important to know what schools’ plans for reopening were before thinking about athletics.
“First and foremost, we have to figure out how we can safely get the kids back into the schools,” he said. “Once we figure that out, athletics will be the next. There are so many moving parts, I haven’t tried to speculate on anything. We are making a plan A, a plan B, and a Plan C as we move along.”
Joe Vasille-Cozzo, the athletic director for the East Hampton School District, said it has been frustrating. “We were just adjusting, getting ready to return in August,” he said. “Now the seasons are up in the air.”
“We recognize this is challenging for everyone, but the decisions made at the state level are based upon data and statewide infection rates all in an effort to stop the spread of COVID and reopen responsibly,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, the state association’s executive director. “At this time, Department of Health guidance presented on July 13 prohibits interscholastic athletics across the state. The association will continue to follow state guidance and will work collectively with state officials to ensure high school athletics will start up responsibly in the future. As an association, we must be willing to be flexible and continue to explore all options with students’ safety as our main focus.”
Among those options is one that would hold condensed seasons for winter sports and another that would postpone fall sports to late winter and early spring, with spring sports being pushed back in the season.
Under a condensed season plan, winter sports, which include basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track and field, skiing, swimming and wrestling, would run for 10 weeks, from January 4 to March 13.
Fall sports, including football, cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and volleyball, would be held for 10 weeks from March 1 to May 8. And spring sports, which include baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field, and unified basketball, would be held for 10 weeks from April 5 to June 12.
Athletic directors said those changes might pose other problems. Mr. Phillips said doubling up girls and boys tennis at the same time might make it hard for his district to provide adequate practice time for both teams, given its limited number of courts. Mr. Vasille-Cozzo said doubling up some sports, such as football and lacrosse, would be impossible for East Hampton. “I can’t run all those programs at the same time because I don’t have the kids,” he said “Some choices would have to be made.” Mr. Bramoff said Sag Harbor, which doesn’t offer all the sports the bigger districts do, would have it a little easier. “We can be more nimble,” he said.
The ADs said it was important to offer some physical activities for youth. “If we don’t have sports, we could offer some type of hybrid model,” said Mr. Phillips. “We could offer intermural or other kinds of activities every day. It goes beyond athletics to a social activity. Kids like to be with their friends.”
“I feel for the kids,” said Mr. Vasille-Cozzo. “The seniors lost their last season, and now it appears to be moving on to the next group of kids.”
“We have to try to remain positive for the kids,” said Mr. Bramoff, “without promising them too much.”