Both the Section II boys’ and girls’ lacrosse seasons have a start date of April 19, but only one of the two would be able get underway on that date if the state’s current ban continues on “high” risk sports from competing.
Girls’ lacrosse is listed as “non-contact” and a “moderate” risk sport according to the New York State Department of Health, similar to soccer and field hockey. Meanwhile, boys’ lacrosse is listed as a “high” risk sport, placing it on hold like basketball, ice hockey and wrestling are this winter.
The difference in designations of “moderate” or “high” risk has area lacrosse coaches scratching their heads.
“I do feel bad for the boys,” Johnstown girls’ lacrosse coach Denise Benton said. “They have helmets, shoulder pads, gloves, mouth guards, chest protectors. They’re not touching each other. They’re not breathing on each other. They’re literally much more protected than the girls are. Girls wear cages on their eyes and a mouth guard. None of it really made a lot of sense to me.”
Shenendehowa boys’ varsity lacrosse coach Jason Gifford sees both sides of the designations, to a point. He said boys’ lacrosse “from a contact standpoint” is “consistent with some of the other ‘high’ risk sports,” but that game play is very similar between boys’ lacrosse and girls’ lacrosse.
Gifford said the exposure of boys’ lacrosse players making contact or spending time in a close-up scenario is similar to “moderate” sports, soccer and field hockey. He said boys’ lacrosse is willing to make more adjustments if it means an opportunity to get on the field.
“We can play with face shields because we have a full-face helmet. That can help reduce exposure,” Gifford said. “We can play with masks if we have to. There are a lot of things we can do to make it very similar to sports that have gone in the fall.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) also made the same distinction, drawing the ire of US Lacrosse, which sent sent a letter to the NFHS upon its classifications in May, and followed up with another letter after the NCAA listed both men’s and women’s lacrosse as “intermediate” risk sports.
Boys’ lacrosse coaches and players remain at the mercy of a reclassification, or go-ahead of all “high” risk sports from New York.
“Even if the NFHS or US Lacrosse is successful in getting boys’ lacrosse classified as a ‘moderate’ risk sport by the NFHS, it doesn’t change anything for us because we are obligated to follow the NYS Department of Health Risk assessments,” Section II executive director Ed Dopp said. “If the NYS DOH changes that risk assessment or any other risk assessment to a favorable position, I’m all on board with that.”
April 19 also isn’t a guaranteed start date for Benton and her squad. Each team needs the approval of its own school district to compete during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Moderate” risk soccer saw competition in only two Section II leagues last fall. Johnstown, for instance, is part of the Foothills Council, which did not compete in soccer last fall.
“Watching the Suburban Council run soccer and field hockey, I can only pray that our administration, our superintendents, our athletic directors really look at that and say, ‘Listen, all these other schools were able to pull this off,’” Benton said. “Spring is similar to fall. We need to let these kids have something.”
“High” risk sports can practice, but in a clinical setting with no game play or contact. Gifford said he has been creating drills for the Shenendehowa Lacrosse Club, the Clifton Park youth lacrosse organization and his varsity players working out during the offseason.
“We’re going to keep our programs going the best we can because, eventually, we’re going to get the green light,” Gifford said. “The vaccine is on the horizon. That’s promising, and we’re hoping that when we get into April, things start getting outside that we’ll be given the green light to go.”