Just more than six months since the last high school sports practices took place around the Capital Region, some squads — in select sports and across select leagues — will finally get back to official work Monday.
Scholastic sports have been paused in New York since mid-March, when the New York State Public High School Athletic Association postponed — and later canceled — the remaining winter regional and state championship events that were in progress because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. With schools closed to in-person instruction from late March through the end of the academic year, the spring sports season was also wiped away entirely.
Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead for “low” and “moderate” risk sports, as determined by guidance from the state Department of Health, to begin practice and play on Sept. 21. After several weeks of planning, the NYSPHSAA — which had already announced it would not host regional or state championship events for any fall sports in 2020 — opted to move the “high” risk fall sports — football, volleyball and the fall competitive cheerleading season — to a “second” fall season with practice beginning March 1.
Other leagues and individual schools have also opted to move either some or all of the remaining “low” and “moderate” risk sports to the Fall II period, but scholastic sports action is about to begin.
Here are five things to know as Fall Season I dawns.
WHO IS PLAYING?
The only league in Section II that will sanction competition in all of the allowed fall sports — soccer, cross country, field hockey, girls’ swimming and diving, golf and girls’ tennis — is the Suburban Council, which Friday released its schedule for the fall season.
In order to accommodate bus needs and officials, the Suburban has opted for a schedule that will see golf and tennis played on Mondays, boys’ and girls’ soccer on Tuesdays, field hockey on Wednesday, swimming and golf on Thursdays, tennis on Fridays and all sports on Saturdays.
The Suburban Council is the only league in Section II offering both soccer and field hockey during the Fall I time period, though the Patroon Conference will also play soccer this fall.
Several area leagues have opted for a modified schedule, moving certain sports to the spring. The Colonial Council voted Friday to move soccer, cross country and girls’ swimming to Fall II, leaving the league with only golf and girls’ tennis during Fall I. The Foothills Council moved soccer, field hockey and girls’ swimming to Fall II, leaving competition in cross country, girls’ tennis and golf. The Western Athletic Conference pushed its soccer season to Fall II, leaving golf and cross country as the league’s only Fall I sports.
The Wasaren League was the first in the area to announce it was postponing all of its fall sports to the Fall II season, with the Adirondack League following suit later last week.
SCHOOLS OPTING OUT
Certain individual school districts have also made the decision to postpone “moderate” risk sports, most prominently a pair of Suburban Council programs.
Bethlehem was the first, announcing last week it was postponing the school’s soccer and field hockey seasons to Fall II. Bethlehem won the Section II Class AA girls’ soccer championship in each of the last two years.
Ballston Spa also opted to move its soccer seasons to Fall II, and the district does not offer field hockey.
NO AREA PLAYOFFS
When Section II announced earlier this month that it would permit competition in “low” and “moderate” risk sports during the Fall I season, the section also announced that no sectional postseason competition will be held in any of those sports.
The move was made to allow teams to schedule as many games as possible during the two-month season without worrying about a cutoff date to begin postseason play.
League-only competition will be the focus of this fall season, and most leagues throughout the section have stated that they will attempt to provide some sort of league championship format for the sports they are offering.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Fall sports will look vastly different for the few people who are able to see them.
Guidance from both the state Department of Health and the NYSPHSAA mandate facial coverings for athletes during competition, unless the athlete cannot tolerate wearing a mask during play. In its guidance for the season, the Foothills Council said athletes in cross country, golf and tennis must wear masks unless they have a medical condition that falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and must receive approval from both the school and the league to find a different solution.
The Foothills is also limiting rosters to a maximum of 20 students per sport and will not allow any spectators at Fall I athletic events.
The Suburban Council announced a plan for limited spectators, as athletes at all schools in the league — with the exception of Albany — will each receive two passes that will permit entrance for fans. Albany will not allow fans at games.
Voluntary, “open gym” workouts can be held for “high” risk sports starting Monday, but those sports await guidance from the state — set to come on or before Dec. 31 — as to when they can begin play.
The NYSPHSAA has pushed back the start of the winter sports season to Nov. 30 in an attempt to allow more time for the Fall I sports to complete their seasons.