The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, as well as Section II, announced Monday the cancellation of spring sports championship events due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The NYSPHSAA called off its championship competitions slated for June that bring together athletes and teams from all parts of the state, and traditionally marks the close of the athletic calendar year. Separate from that, Section II officials said there will be no Section II championship competitions that are normally held prior to the state-level events, but they are holding out hope that some regular-season games and meets might still be staged.
“These decisions are emotional and physically draining because the people making them are passionate about interscholastic athletics and know how beneficial that can be,” Section II executive director Ed Dopp said. “This hurts, but, in the big scheme of things, it’s not as bad as what this virus can do to us.”
Additionally, the NYSPHSAA is considering forming an ad hoc committee to look into the COVID-19 impact on the fall sports season. In a conference call Monday with reporters, NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said such a committee could be formed as early as late May.
“When it comes to the fall season, I think I’m aware of the potential impact that this crisis could have,” he said. “But I don’t want to get too far out in front of this. Right now, our focus has been on the spring state championships and the regular season. If we continue to see some type of an impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the summer and potentially the fall, we are prepared to create an ad hoc committee with superintendents, principals, athletic directors, potentially somebody from the department of health and the state education department — a small group of experts that we can rely upon for recommendations and guidance on any impact of the fall. But that ad hoc committee has yet to be created because we don’t know what the next month or two will hold with this crisis.”
The canceled NYSPHSAA championship events were set to be held between June 4 and 13, and included competition in track and field, boys’ tennis, softball, baseball, lacrosse and golf.
“Right now, it’s a kick in the kneecap,” said Shenendehowa baseball coach Greg Christodulu, whose Plainsmen followed up their Section II Class AA title in 2019 with a run to the state final. “But you could kind of see it coming down the road.”
The NYSPHSAA in March canceled state-level competition in basketball, hockey and bowling during the winter season because of the health crisis.
“I feel for the seniors. They won’t get a chance to defend their [Section II] championship,” Christodulu said. “Our coaches, I feel bad for them, too. We have a lot invested in this group.”
Ballston Spa won the Class A state baseball championship last spring and was among several Section II teams that made deep postseason runs.
“It’s a tough day for everyone,” Ballston Spa baseball coach Curtis Nobles said. “I feel bad not only for the kids, but the parents, too. They put in a lot of effort that enables the kids to get better and go places and play the games.”
Dopp said each of the NYSPHSAA’s 11 sections will determine their course of action moving forward. Section II will hold competitions if at all possible this spring. Sections VIII and XI, both made up of Long Island schools, canceled their spring seasons last week.
An email explaining the cancellation of the Section II championships read, in part: “Input from Executive Committee, League Presidents, Sport Coordinators, District Superintendents, Athletic Administrators, Coaches; Major factors include: Time, Facilities, Athlete Preparation, and the many still unanswered questions regarding restrictions and specifically Social Distancing.”
Dopp said a plan to only hold Section II championship competitions was discussed at length before a decision was made to consider regular-season play only.
“In an open sectional, it’s one game and out. On the other hand, a team might have the opportunity to play two, three or four games,” Dopp said. “If we only had sectionals, JV, freshman and modified teams would be left out. Any kind of regular season would be an opportunity for all levels.”
Competitions and practices for Section II teams were suspended March 13, initially until April 19. That ban on organized athletic activity has been extended two more times, the most recent being April 16 with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest extension of the “New York State on PAUSE” order through May 15.
“We’re holding out that light of hope,” Dopp said. “It does get a little dimmer every day.”
“We’re in the same boat with Ed Dopp,” said Allison Anaya, who serves as the Section II girls’ lacrosse coordinator and coaches the sport at Colonie. “Hoping we have something.”
Monday’s Section II email stated: “If and when we can return to school and begin Interscholastic Athletics, NYSPHSAA will provide the guidelines as far as the number of required practice days and the length of the season. It will then be a local school district decision as to who they play, how many contests they hold and at what levels they provide.”
If any sports do get played this spring, Zayas said Monday that his recommendation would be for sections to require teams to restart the count of needed practices before any competition could start. Practice requirements before competition are 10 for baseball, six for everything else in spring.
“With the extended layoff, my recommendation, as I expressed to the section executive directors [Sunday], is that we would restart those practice requirements if and when schools are able to resume,” Zayas said.
On a potential spring season played at local levels, Zayas said: “If a spring season becomes a reality, it’s certainly going to be condensed and there’s going to be some type of restrictions and limitations that our schools are going to have to … adapt to, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. And what I mean by that is we need to be patient and we need to wait to see what social-distancing restrictions could still be in place, should the spring season be able to resume. Are there going to be social-distancing restrictions? Is there going to be a requirement to wear a face mask? All of those things will play a role in how spring sports could be re-integrated into the school setting, if and when schools are able to reopen.”
The “could be,” though, is important. It’s not guaranteed that schools re-opening would instantly mean school sports could start.
“Right now, there’s an assumption that by schools opening, automatically, athletics and all extra-curricular activities are going to be part of that re-opening,” Zayas said. “We need to be patient and we need to continue to take guidance from the governor’s office, when and if schools are able to reopen.”
Zayas expressed sympathy for the seniors, realizing just how much they are missing out on.
“I think that’s the most difficult aspect of this entire situation. I realize there’s seniors that were looking forward to the opportunity of participating in our state championships, and I think that’s the most heart-wrenching aspect of this decision is thinking about those seniors,” Zayas said. “It’s been more than 25 years, and I still remember my senior season of high school, running track and field and cross country, and I can still tell you my splits in the state championships of the two mile.”
Sports editor Michael Kelly contributed to this report.