Section II awaits fate of
winter sports season
Section II athletic leaders are gearing up for a winter sports season.
What it will entail, though, they just don’t know.
With the season set to start with practices on Nov. 30, sports such as basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and competitive cheerleading — “high” risk sports, as defined by the New York State Department of Health in terms of their risk for potential spread of the coronavirus — are still not cleared at the state level for competition. It is the state DOH that sets the initial parameters, which will set in motion a chain that will ultimately determine what the Section II winter season will look like in terms of the sports that are played, and how sports are played.
“Let’s wait and see what we get and don’t get, and from there we can strategize and make more decisions,” New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas said in a recent interview.
The NYSPHSAA intends to do that after the state DOH and Gov. Andrew Cuomo release their dos and don’ts for the winter season, just as they did prior to the fall season when “high” risk sports such as football and volleyball were called off and offered a compact “Fall II” season in March. Meanwhile, a variety of local leagues and schools made the decision not to play some “low” and “moderate” risk sports in the fall at their own discretion.
At the state level, authorities are soon expected to make an announcement regarding winter sports, and will do so at a time when coronavirus cases are on the upswing in New York. Zayas is hopeful such an announcement will come this week, and he has plenty of company in that camp.
“So much is undetermined and there are still so many questions,” Fonda-Fultonville athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Eric Wilson said. “Everyone is chomping at the bit and wants answers to see where we’re heading.”
“We would like the opportunity to at least try,” Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said. “That’s what we’re hoping to get.”
State guidance from August — as long as it holds — allows for “low” and “moderate” risk winter sports, such as boys’ swimming and diving, bowling, gymnastics, skiing and indoor track and field, to proceed with their respective seasons while abiding by COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’re planning to start up the low risk sports on November 30,” Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said of his high school’s bowling and boys’ swim programs. “The high risk sports, we’re keeping our fingers crossed, but we don’t know. We hope they get a season.”
Culnan said he wants to see his athletes in “high” risk sports get a chance to compete this winter, but Section II’s largest school is holding off on offering physicals to them since they’re not currently sanctioned to compete in games.
“For the high risk physicals, we’re waiting for the go-ahead [from the state],” Culnan said.
Could there be a Section II winter season with some sports currently in the “high” risk classification playing, while others are not? Last week, Vermont officials announced that their basketball and ice hockey teams could compete without spectators, but there would be no wrestling competitions in the state.
“I have been given no indication that they are going to separate sports out,” Culnan said.
“I think at this point, anything is possible,” Wilson said. “It’s possible they could change that, but it would be tough to allow one high risk sport and not another.”
“High risk” winter sports teams at this time can work out at their schools if their schools give the OK, but on a limited basis with no contact.
“Our [Western Athletic Conference] superintendents met with the athletic directors and we’re kind of waiting right now,” Wilson said. “Some schools up North are starting to do some things.”
Mohonasen High School has taken a proactive approach to the winter season, offering weight room opportunities, and structured skills-and-drills sessions for its basketball and wrestling teams with safety protocols in place. Its football and volleyball teams eying the “Fall II” season have also been prepping.
“We are doing as much as we can to get the kids ready to go,” Mohonasen athletic director David Bertram said. “Our coaches have been so dedicated. They want to see the kids out there, and they’re putting in the time with them.”
If state authorities give the go-ahead for some or all of the sports, their start date could be pushed back to late December or early January in order to give those teams more time to prepare for competition, and give schools more time to prepare their COVID-19 safety measures.
“I think it will be pushed back. That’s my feeling,” Bertram said. “I’d rather see it pushed back and have a season rather than not have a season. If we can have a short winter and do it safely and successfully, I’m on board. The majority of us in the Colonial Council and Suburban Council want to go. We saw the success of fall sports and as long as we follow the protocols I think we would be OK.”
“Fall sports were such a whirlwind with all of the things coming down from Cuomo and the state,” Wilson said. “The consensus I’m getting out here is that we’ve had time to get more confident in school with the education piece, and now, moving forward, we are willing to take that next step and give kids an opportunity to play.”
That would most likely include a limit, or even a ban, on spectators at competitions. The Suburban Council this fall put a limit of two spectators for each participating athlete for its outdoor sports, and banned spectators from its swimming and diving meets.
“My view would be to not have fans,” Bertram said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in Section III and Section IV who feel the same way — as long as we get the OK from the top [to play].”
Guilderland athletic director David Austin said that while the outdoor fall sports season in Section II has served as a successful proving ground for the “low” and “moderate” risk sports, it is possible that state authorities may not be willing to consent to “high” risk indoor activities.
Where to put Section II’s indoor track and field teams is another area of concern as the winter season nears.
Despite its “moderate” classification, indoor track and field could find itself as a sport with nowhere to compete due to a lack of facilities. Section II teams traditionally compete at Union College, the University at Albany and Hudson Valley Community College, which are not allowing visitors and large gatherings at this time.
“We could have a team, but nowhere to compete,” veteran Amsterdam running coach Stu Palczak said. “What are you going to do? Schools won’t let you in.”
Many Section II boys’ swimming and diving teams will hold their meets virtually this winter due to a lack of space at pools and the social distance protocols that are in place. Many Section II girls’ teams went in that direction this fall.
“We can point to things that worked,” Austin said.
Each school district In Section II will have the option as to its level of participation during the winter season after mandates and recommendations are handed down from state authorities, the NYSPHSAA, and Section II and league leaders.
“Each school has different concerns,” Bertram said.