Schenectady High School wrestling coach Chad Languish isn’t so sure if he’s going to hear what he wants to hear in the coming days.
His mat team, like many others in Section II, remains idle while other “high” risk winter sports in multiple area counties have been allowed to proceed with their winter seasons.
“We’re still in a little bit of a waiting game,” Languish said. “Hopefully by the end of the week, most of the schools will have a better idea if we’re going to get going or what’s the next step.”
Schenectady, Rensselaer and Montgomery counties have given their respective schools the go-ahead to practice and compete in “high” risk sports, but to a limit. Wrestling decisions still have to be made, and in a few cases, they already have been made.
“It’s tough to put a schedule together when you don’t know who is going to wrestle,” Columbia coach Anthony Servidone said. “Who’s in? Who’s out?”
“There are more questions than definitive answers,” said Section II assistant wrestling coordinator Matt Stein, who is Shaker’s athletic director.
The majority of counties within the greater Capital Region set a benchmark last week that their seven-day coronavirus positivity rate needed to reach 4% or lower to allow for “high” risk high school winter sports — basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey and wrestling — to start full-contact practices and competition.
Saratoga County continued to see its positivity rate decrease, falling to 4.1% Tuesday afternoon, lowering it to within striking distance of 4% or below. Meanwhile, Schenectady County fell again to 3.8% on Tuesday, the second consecutive day it was below the “high” risk allowable mark of 4% Albany County was at 5.3%; Schoharie County saw its rate rise, again, to 4.3%; and, Montgomery and Rensselaer, the two area counties that gave the go-ahead to “high” risk sports to begin fully Monday without needing to meet a positivity-rate level were at 7.3% and 4.8%, respectively.
But, even if counties meet that metric, respective school districts need to elect to compete in “high” risk sports, such as wrestling.
“We’re waiting for official news by the [school] boards,” Languish said. “I know obviously we want to get the kids going again and get them involved in sports, but I get it. It’s a tough call to make.”
Languish is hopeful the call goes his way, and that he can get his grapplers started on their 10 official practices in preparation for what will already be a condensed season that’s been extended from Feb. 28 to March 13.
“Wrestling gets looked at through a different lens,” Languish said. “It’s a full-contact, close-quarter sport, but there are safety measures that can be taken to reduce all of that.”
Some of the numerous wrestling match protocols outlined in a presentation at the Niskayuna school board meeting Tuesday included the mandatory wearing of masks, no handshakes, mat and ankle band disinfecting, team weigh-ins conducted separately and proper spacing as athletes wait to compete. The board approved the sport afterward.
“New York state came out with some suggestions and mandated some,” Niskayuna coach Shaun Neely said of the list of protocols, most of which will be followed by other Section II programs. “Others were specific to our school.”
“There are new protocols,” said Servidone, who is waiting to hear from district leadership whether his Blue Devils will compete or not. “It’s a lot to overcome, but it can be done.”
Two of Columbia’s Rensselaer County counterparts, Averill Park and Maple Hill, have approved wrestling. Two others, Lansingburgh and Hoosick Falls, will not field wrestling teams this winter. Hoosick Falls announced Tuesday it won’t participate in any “high” risk sports this winter season.
“Hopefully we can return to the mats and at least practice in our own room,” Servidone said. “If we get to have competition, that’s a plus.”
The Ballston Spa Board of Education, in anticipation of Saratoga County schools soon gaining full clearance to begin “high” risk sports, gave clearance Monday for several of them, but did not approve wrestling, instead putting that sport on pause. Ballston Spa athletic director Dave Sunkes and wrestling coach Harvey Staulters did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Gazette.
Neely said he was pleasantly surprised when Niskayuna wrestling got the thumbs up Tuesday.
“I was cautiously optimistic,” he said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes too high up. When they said let’s give it a shot, I was most happy for the kids.”