When the Johnstown field hockey team made its run to the state championship game in 2019, coach Christine Krempa and her husband had to shovel off a 25-yard space out of the snow on Knox Field so that the Lady Bills could even prepare, and the state final four at Alden High School was essentially played on a sheet of ice.
That’s how Johnstown’s last field hockey season ended, and Krempa is now concerned that’s how the next one could start.
Field hockey, along with boys’ and girls’ soccer and girls’ swimming, were postponed to the “second” fall season starting March 1 as the Foothills Council announced Monday that it would only play varsity-level contests in “low” risk sports during the initial fall season, which starts Monday and runs through Nov. 21.
A scheduled March 1 start makes lingering winter weather a potential hurdle for outdoor sports attempting to get started.
“We proved that we could play in the snow and the ice last November,” Krempa said. “States was an ice show out there. We’ll do it again if we have to. At this point in time, I’m just hoping to get my girls on the field for any number of games — whether it’s one, 14 or three.”
The Foothills will have varsity competition only in boys’ and girls’ cross country, boys’ and girls’ golf and girls’ tennis during the Fall I season. The Colonial Council also announced Wednesday that it was pushing girls’ swimming and diving to the Fall II season, but Mohonasen athletic director David Bertram said the league was still planning to move forward with boys’ and girls’ soccer starting Monday along with cross country, golf and girls’ tennis.
“We’ve been meeting and talking about that,” Bertram said, “trying to figure out what plans are going to work the best to keep them safe and get them on the field.”
The Foothills Council’s move mirrors the one made earlier this week by the Western Athletic Conference, which also pushed soccer to a March start and will only sponsor golf and cross country during the first fall season. The Wasaren League announced Monday that it was pushing all of its fall sports to the Fall II period.
Three “high” risk sports — football, volleyball and the fall competitive cheerleading season — have already been moved to the Fall II season by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
Amsterdam athletic director and Foothills Council president Steve Nolan said the league’s decision to shelve the “moderate” risk fall sports until March came in anticipation of upcoming guidance from the state Department of Health about COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and quarantining in regards to inter-school activities.
“For instance, if a kid goes up to Queensbury and they have a case of COVID that ends up being confirmed on their soccer team, it would impact all of their soccer team, any other student that student came in contact with, all of our soccer team and anybody they came in contact with — plus the staff members,” Nolan said. “The new state mandates as far as quarantine and contact tracing just made it a daunting task. We’re trying to get kids back in school and get their education done, it was something that we needed to put off.”
In moving forward with cross country, golf and girls’ tennis, the Foothills is installing further health and safety measures.
The fall season will be limited to league competitions only, though the release announcing the move stated the league will make “every effort to host a championship in each sport.” Also, the league will not permit spectators at any athletic events during Fall Season I.
Participation will also be capped, as rosters for cross country and golf will be limited to 10 boys and 10 girls in each sport, while girls’ tennis will have a maximum of 20 students on a roster.
The league is also mandating athletes to wear masks during all contests unless, according to a press release announcing the league’s decision, “the athlete cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition recognized as a disability pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act,” in which case the athlete must submit a written request that will be submitted to the school’s athletic director and be cleared through both the school and the league.
While swimming is listed as a “low” risk sport in guidance issued by the state Department of Health, Nolan said the decision to move girls’ swimming to Fall Season II revolved around guidance involving pool and locker room usage as well as the fact that there are only four girls’ swim teams competing in the Foothills.
Mohonasen’s Bertram cited similar reasons for the Colonial Council’s decision to move swimming to the second fall season.
“A lot of facilities are in close quarters, so it would be really hard to keep social distancing — especially with spectators,” Bertram said. “We felt we’d be able to have a better season in that Fall II season.”
For soccer and field hockey coaches in the Foothills, Wednesday’s announcement was another difficult pill to swallow in a situation that’s seemed to be in a constant state of flux. Already, the NYSPHSAA announced the cancellation of all state and regional competition for fall sports this year, and last week Section II announced it would not host any area-wide postseason play in the fall.
Now, there will be even more waiting.
“It’s not the best news for us. We’re obviously disappointed,” Broadalbin-Perth boys’ soccer coach Brian Henry said. “We feel bad for the kids, because despite the COVID pandemic we’re in, they worked very hard this summer to get themselves in shape and they were really looking forward to some normalcy back in their lives — and sports provides that for them. To have this news come down this afternoon was disheartening to say the least.”
“I was hoping the 21st [of September] was the target date, to be completely honest,” Krempa said. “I was hoping we could’ve met that. We were inching closer and closer, five days out. It’s just more continued uncertainty. Instead of being told, ‘Yes, you can play, or no, you’re canceled altogether,’ it’s a postponement. It’s months of more uncertainty.”
Krempa was hopeful the model used by club programs over the summer months could have been imitated to give the “moderate” risk sports a chance in the fall.
“I wish we could’ve done it safely,” she said. “Having intimate knowledge with what went on in the summer with club field hockey — my own two daughters play club field hockey — that program ran for eight weeks without a single case; masks, social distancing, sanitizing everything. I think it could’ve been done. . . . It is what it is.”
“Maybe,” she added, “we’ll have a light winter.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.