‘High’ risk high school sports guidelines skate on thin ice across counties

Gazette file photo.

Gazette file photo.

At the moment, an Amsterdam “high” risk high school sports team cannot play against one from outside Montgomery County based on the county’s return-to-play guidelines. 

But, it appears, an Amsterdam athlete can play on a “high” risk team based in Schenectady County.

The Niskayuna/Schenectady/Albany/Amsterdam Mohawks ice hockey team opened practice Wednesday afternoon outside with a dry-land training session that included one Amsterdam athlete joining the team. That training session took place at Niskayuna High School, in Schenectady County, and the team will practice at Schenectady County Recreational Facility once it gets on the ice.

All this comes after the majority of counties in the greater Capital Region issued guidelines created by their respective departments of health regarding “high” risk sports – basketball, cheerleading, wrestling and ice hockey.

Albany, Fulton, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties guidelines don’t allow “high” risk full-contact practice or games until the county’s seven-day rolling averages of coronavirus positivity rate is at or below 4%. Montgomery County’s plan allows for full-contact play and contests limited to within the county with no restriction related to the seven-day rolling average, but that county’s teams cannot play outside the county until Montgomery is at or below 4%.

As of Wednesday, Schenectady -– at 3.7% -– was one of several counties at 4% or lower that needed to be in order for “high” risk athletics to start, a club that Saratoga (4%) and Schoharie (3.9%) joined that day. Meanwhile, Montgomery County was at 7%.

But the Mohawks started practice Wednesday, and players from their Montgomery County school were eligible to participate alongside players from Niskayuna despite the differing guidelines between the two counties that had OK’d “high” risk sports. 

“As long as the county allows them to play, the school district is the one who finalized it, [so] yes they can play,” Niskayuna athletic director Larry Gillooley said Wednesday. “I spoke to [Amsterdam AD] Steve Nolan today for confirmation that they are allowed to play.

“It’s county by county approval, but we also have to get approval from the school district. Albany High is not allowing anybody to play ice hockey, and neither is Schenectady.”

Without players from the Albany and Schenectady school districts, 24 players were expected to try out for this season’s Mohawks squad. Of those two dozen players, 22 are from Niskayuna and two are from Amsterdam.

A Schenectady County official confirmed that there was not any guidance prohibiting a player from a county that’s exceeding the 4% seven-day rolling averages of coronavirus positivity rate from playing on a team based in Schenectady County.

“SCPHS [Schenectady County Public Health Services] guidance requires schools to approve sport-specific preparedness plans,” Schenectady County Director of Communications Erin Roberts wrote in an email. “The creation of these plans is left up to the school, so they can customize it to their specific needs. These plans should include rules for out-of-county players, if applicable.”

Roberts continued that Schenectady County “high” risk programs are not prohibited from playing against programs from other counties that do not meet its guidelines, but “competing against schools that do not meet these metrics goes against the main intent of the guidance, which is to limit high-risk sports to communities where COVID-19 positivity rates are low.”

The Niskayuna School District approved its “high” risk sports specific criteria Tuesday night during a virtual meeting. The meeting documentation did not include reference to “out of county” players or participants.

Niskayuna’s approval Tuesday night -– plus Wednesday’s drop for Saratoga County, which houses multiple ice hockey programs -– was welcome news for Mohawks coach Ken Lancto.

“We’re still looking at a week before we can start [contests], and if Saratoga County schools can start [this week], we hope to start games maybe as early as next weekend,” Lancto said. “That gives us a month to play as many games as we can. I think a nice number would be seven or eight.

“The focus is on getting the first week in the books, then the second week and kind of play it day-by-day and hopefully get games in. If we’re lucky enough . . . we can play a tournament [at the end of the season], similar to what [Suburban Council] soccer did in the fall.”

For another merged ice hockey team -– The Storm -– the wait continues.

With as many as 18 players –- from Guilderland, Mohonasen, Scotia, Voorheesville and Schalmont -– spanning two counties, things are on hold.

“We are in wait-and-see mode, unfortunately, until Albany [County] comes down to 4% and then we can start our official practice calendar,” Guilderland athletic director Dave Austin said Wednesday. “We wouldn’t have enough, anyway, to field a team safely if we counted [only on] Schalmont, Scotia and Mohonasen kids, and waited on Voorheesville and Guilderland. We need everybody ready to go.”

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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