NYSPHSAA further delays ‘high’ risk winter sports; Suburban Council boys’ soccer playoff game called off due to coronavirus issue

Mohonasen freshman Bella Petrocci participates during an open-gym session at Mohonasen High School in Rotterdam on Thursday, October 15, 2020. (Gazette file photo)
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Mohonasen freshman Bella Petrocci participates during an open-gym session at Mohonasen High School in Rotterdam on Thursday, October 15, 2020. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, High School Sports, Sports

Just days after Section II pushed its start date for all winter sports to the middle of December, the state’s athletic governing body pushed back even further when “high” risk sports teams will be able to start their seasons.

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, the Suburban Council boys’ soccer tournament lost one of its quarterfinal games a couple hours before it was set to start when Colonie needed to forfeit its matchup against top-seeded Shenendehowa due to an active COVID-19 case “associated with the high school,” according to a South Colonie Central School District spokesperson.

“Schools have active cases and an active case has impacted the boys’ soccer team,” Colonie athletic director Joe Guardino said Tuesday afternoon during a phone interview. “I can’t divulge whether someone has it or not. It could even be just a quarantine scenario; sometimes, you get unlucky . . . and it quarantines everybody.”

Colonie’s departure from the season-ending ​boys’ soccer tournament came hours after the New York State Public High Athletic Association announced that all “high” risk winter sports — basketball, competitive cheerleading, ice hockey and wrestling — won’t start their seasons until Jan. 4, at the earliest. That announcement comes at a time when coronavirus cases are on the rise, with New York reporting a positivity rate Tuesday of 3.18%.

Currently, winter sports deemed as “low” and “moderate” risk are allowed fully to start their seasons on Dec. 14 in Section II. Approval from the state government is still required, though, before competitions will be allowed in any “high” risk sports — and NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas made clear Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that it’s unclear when such clearance will be granted. Zayas said that “hopefully, we’ll get authorization at some point during the month of December,” but labeled Jan. 4 as “just an arbitrary date.”

Later, regarding the state-level approval needed to start “high” risk sports competitions, Zayas added: “We understand that state officials are extremely busy and they’re inundated with issues and challenges and obstacles associated with the COVID crisis. So we are being patient and we are cognizant of the fact that there is a priority list and at this point in time, high school sports is not at the top of the priority list — and we can certainly understand why.”

At this time, all winter NYSPHSAA state championship events remain as scheduled.

Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said he understood why the NYSPHSAA made the decision it did Tuesday.

“I think that [NYSPHSAA] was in a position where their hand was kind of forced. They’re not getting any information from the governor’s office and I think they made a reasonable decision to move it to Jan. 4,” Culnan said. “We’re all keeping our fingers crossed and we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to get basketball, hockey, wrestling and cheerleading up off the ground on January 4th. If you’ve seen what we’ve been able to do in the fall, we’ve been able to run a good program in the Suburban Council and I’m hoping we get that same opportunity for the kids’ sake in the wintertime. I’m hoping for our athletes, we’ll have the ability to have a season.”

Amsterdam girls’ basketball head coach Eric Duemler said he was “encouraged” with Tuesday’s development.

“I talked to some of my coaching friends in other sections and they’re encouraged, too,” Duemler said. “It’s better than what’s happened in some places where they just cancel stuff. If we start on [Jan. 4], six practices and we can start playing on the 10th. Other states are doing it safely. People are going to Pennsylvania every weekend right now and playing. At least we can control our athletes if we have them here.”

Last Friday, the Section II Executive Committee announced the winter start date for all sports would be moved from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14. The NYSPHSAA continues to keep Nov. 30 as its start date for the “moderate” and “low” risk sports that include bowling, gymnastics, boys’ swimming and diving, and indoor track and field, and skiing, “for those schools and sections who have determined it feasible to host interscholastic athletics at that time,” but Section II’s start date for “low” and “moderate” risk sports remains at Dec. 14.

“It’s hard, but, like we say during the season, live in the moment,” said Mohonasen boys’ basketball coach Graham Macbeth, who was conducting a skills session Tuesday afternoon with 25 of the school’s basketball players. “I can’t promise them a season, but I can try to give them an experience, which is what I’m doing as we wait and see.”

While “high” risk sports remain on hold in terms of competing, Mohonasen and other Section II schools have been conducting safety-conscious drills for their “high” risk winter athletic teams.

“The kids can’t share equipment. They can’t play defense against each other. Lots of fundamentals,” Macbeth said. “We’re making the best of it.”

Last March, several state-level winter sports competitions were called off due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and afterward, the spring athletic season was called off, as well. The NYSPHSAA shelved “high” risk sports for the fall season, and gave sections and school districts the option to participate in “low” and “moderate” risk sports. The Section II fall sports season is concluding this week with the Suburban Council conducting several championship events.

Guardino said the school district was notified regarding a positive COVID-19 case by the Albany County Department of Health and the tracing protocols in place impacted the boys’ soccer team. The forfeit scenario is in place for the duration of this week’s Suburban Council fall championships.

“We, as a league, decided in this situation, that it’s mid-November and we can’t be delaying things like we could a while ago,” Guardino said. “If it were to occur [COVID-19 exposure], it would simply be a forfeit and move forward.”

Staff Writers Stan Hudy, Adam Shinder and Zach Matson contributed to this report.

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