Practices for fall high school sports opened across the state Monday, but before a football snap or volleyball spike was allowed, athletes in “high” risk fall sports at Niskayuna High School had to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Monday afternoon, the Silver Warriors football squad was ready with more than 30 varsity players taking to the practice field.
“Just a show of hands [at team camp last week], it seemed like a majority of our guys already had it, at least 90 percent,” Niskayuna senior quarterback Dan Quinn said. “I know Niskayuna families, and especially the school district, urged students to get it. That was a big part of it.”
That percentage “surprised” coach Brian Grastorf.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Grastorf said, “but most of them were [vaccinated] and that’s a good thing.”
A letter sent out Friday from the Niskayuna Central School District read, in part, that “the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cancelling high-risk sports unless all participants are vaccinated. The high-risk sports that we are offering this fall are football and volleyball. Based on this guidance from the CDC, students who wish to participate in these two sports must be vaccinated, or in the process of becoming vaccinated, at this time.”
Several other Capital Region school districts have mandated vaccinations for student-athletes, while many other schools are utilizing masks among other coronavirus-mitigation efforts. At Schenectady High School, Monday’s first day of sports practices also saw the school host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
During the 2020-21 academic year, “high” risk fall sports — including football — were not permitted to take place during their regular position in the calendar, moving instead to an abbreviated “Fall II” season held during March and April. This school year, sports are currently moving forward without such restrictions in place at a state- or section-wide level, though individual districts are putting forth their own requirements for COVID-19 testing, masking and vaccination.
In Montgomery County, the Amsterdam football team suffered through a rough Fall II season. That campaign saw the team’s scheduled opener scrapped because of quarantine protocols brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, then five losses in five games — the last three coming by a combined total of seven points.
Luckily, head coach John Homich said, the Rugged Rams didn’t have to wait long to get back on the field.
“We ended the season with a bad taste in our mouth,” Homich, who is entering his second season as head coach, said in a phone interview Monday evening after Amsterdam wrapped up its first day of practice. “We used that to help propel us this offseason to make things right, make the changes we needed to make. It really motivated the guys to be better. Today was a step in the right direction.”
In Fulton County, new Johnstown football coach Paul Furman opened his first football practice Monday morning eager to move forward. For Furman, an Amsterdam graduate and former longtime assistant with the Rugged Rams, there’s no better way to start his tenure than by facing the Sir Bills’ biggest rival — Gloversville — on Sept. 3
“That’s a great opportunity for me as a first-time head coach here. It’s a great opportunity for our kids, and for the community,” Furman said. “It’s an old-school rivalry, something that was stopped because of classification play.”
At Niskayuna, Quinn welcomed the school district’s vaccine requirement. Quinn received his vaccine prior to last spring before he played travel baseball with Frozen Ropes, and traveled throughout the Northeast to tournaments where proof of the vaccine was required to participate.
“My family urged me to do it, but I was for it as well because I knew without it there wouldn’t be as many opportunities,” Quinn said.
Daily Gazette sportswriter Adam Shinder contributed to this report.