The New York State Council of School Superintendents is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reconsider the decision he announced Monday that will allow fall high school sports to begin Sept. 21.
There are some school district administrators in Section II who don’t want to see that happen, and are anxious to give fall sports a go.
“We want to try to do it for the kids. Everyone has lost so much,” said Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan, speaking on behalf of his school and Shenendehowa superintendent Dr. L. Oliver Robinson. “We have to do it safely and with everyone’s help.”
Schenectady, like Shenendehowa, has continued to move forward with its fall sports plans since Gov. Cuomo’s announcement — at least as much it can — and is waiting for additional guidance from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
“We are waiting to see what the section and the state has to say, but our plan is to go ahead with athletics,” Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said. “Our kids are craving it. They’ve been cooped up for months. We’ll do our very best to do it in the safest way.”
The NYS Council of School Superintendents issued a letter of request to Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, and Dr. Robinson reacted to that letter with this message on his @OliverRobinso13 Twitter account: “I think students need athletics for mental health and to feel a sense of normal in school. Some have been without extracurriculars since March. I’m confident athletic directors can meet the expectations. I ask that we first make a gallant try before throwing in the towel.”
The state Council of School Superintendents believes academics should take precedence over athletics as the school year is about to begin in the coronavirus environment.
“Let’s get schools up and running and see how that unfolds,” said Robert N. Lowry Jr., the NYS Council of School Superintendents’ deputy director for advocacy, research and communications.
The NYS Council of School Superintendents’ letter to Gov. Cuomo reads in part: “This is an uncertain time for schools. Our leaders want a successful reopening and are expressing a strong desire to defer all other activities that could endanger the health and safety of students and delay their start in the classroom. Students need to be in school, with their friends and teachers as soon as possible. School leaders need to be focused on this effort and not have their attention diverted to extracurricular activities at this moment. It is our view that school athletics will risk this endeavor and that is not a compromise we believe should be taken.”
“I don’t think that letter is a reflection of all superintendents,” Boynton said. “I can see their concern, though.”
Duanesburg athletic director Penny Hardenstine also understands the NYS Council of School Superintendents’ concern.
“Everybody’s first thought is our kids, and how do we best serve them,” Hardenstine said.
The state Council of School Superintendents consists of five officers, a 14-member executive committee, and a 58-member house of delegates, all of whom are active superintendents. Niskayuna superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, one of the executive committee members, did not get back to The Daily Gazette after a phone call and email request.
“Shenendehowa was unaware that letter was being sent,” said Culnan, who later added. “From my conversations with athletic administrators in the Suburban Council, the indication is many of the Suburban Council superintendents were unaware that letter had been sent to the Governor’s office.”
Gov. Cuomo said Monday that low-risk and medium-risk sports teams could begin practicing on Sept. 21 and play games locally afterward. He also gave the go-ahead for high-risk sports to begin practicing on Sept. 21 but that playing games would not be allowed until a future date to be determined.
“Do I want to have fall sports? I absolutely want to have fall sports,” Hardenstine said. “But I am not sure where we stand right now. We are waiting for guidance from New York state and Section II, and we and the Western Athletic Conference will look at the parameters to see if we can do it in a safe environment.”
Gov. Cuomo said in a briefing Thursday: “We made a state determination that would allow certain high school sports to commence and that we put out guidance and deadlines on that. That does not mean that high school sports must commence, it means it can commence. Can, not must. It’s up to the individual school districts to determine if they want to go ahead with the sports program. Different school districts are making different decisions and that’s fine. It’s up to them. But we gave guidance as to for those that decide to go forward, this is how you should do it.”
“We spent all summer working on all sorts of contingency plans,” said Culnan, who is the president of Section II’s executive committee. “What’s concerning to me is we have been waiting all summer for guidance from the governor’s office, and we get that [letter] a day later. It’s sort of a left-hand turn.”
In a response to the NYS Council of School Superintendents’ letter, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas wrote: “Governor Cuomo’s announcement on Monday to allow interscholastic athletics to resume this Fall is positive for student-athletes throughout New York State. As an education based organization, I, along with the officers of NYSPHSAA, respect school district leaders who want to postpone high school sports until January. For those school leaders who wish to provide interscholastic opportunities for their students, our association will continue reviewing guidance and provide resources to ensure sports can be conducted in a manner consistent with state and federal COVID-19 guidelines to minimize risks for all student-athletes. We recognize superintendents know what’s best for their school community and certainly have the authority and autonomy to administer their district’s athletic programs as they deem appropriate.”
In the end, individual school districts will have the ultimate say whether their teams participate this fall or not. Earlier this week, Nassau (Section VIII) school superintendents voted to postpone their high school sports until 2021.