NYSPHSAA planning to play state championship events Friday as smoke concerns linger

Two lacrosse players in game

Niskayuna's Cooper Harvey attempts to clear the ball during the Class B regional championship against Yorktown on Saturday.

ALBANY – As smoke drifting into New York’s skies as a result of wildfires burning in eastern Canada has left the status of spring high school sports championships somewhat up in the air heading into the weekend, the head of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association remains optimistic that the season will complete on time this weekend.

Though air quality issues already pushed boys’ lacrosse state semifinals — including Niskayuna’s Class B matchup against Garden City at UAlbany’s Tom & Mary Casey Stadium — back from Wednesday to Friday, and the association canceled all outdoor practices scheduled at state championship sites on Thursday, NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said Thursday morning that competition was on track to resume as scheduled on Friday.

“Right now,” Zayas said, “we’re planning to move forward with everything as scheduled. That’s the plan right now.”

State semifinal and championship events are due to take place Friday in six different sports — boys’ lacrosse in Albany and Cortland, girls’ lacrosse in Cortland, baseball in Binghamton, softball in Moriches on Long Island, track and field in Middletown and boys’ team tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. As currently scheduled, all sports will wrap up their seasons Saturday with the exception of boys’ lacrosse, which already pushed back its championship games at Hofstra University on Long Island from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate the postponement of the sport’s semifinals from Wednesday to Friday.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Air Quality Index [AQI] forecast for Friday predicted a “Moderate” AQI of 51-100 in the Central New York, Upper Hudson Valley and Lower Hudson Valley regions, where much of Friday’s action is scheduled to take place.

The New York City and Long Island regions have forecasts for an AQI of 101-150, a range listed as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”

When NYSPHSAA postponed Wednesday’s contests, the association said it would not play games if the AQI was greater than 100, citing a 2019 position statement on air quality and athlete health from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“The forecast is lending itself to be more positive than it was today,” Zayas said. “We’re looking at moving forward with the championships as scheduled. Now, a lot of that’s going to be predicated on the weather and the wind patterns.”

The end of NYSPHSAA’s spring sports season is traditionally tied to the start of state Regents examinations, which are due to begin this coming Wednesday.

Zayas has dealt with this particular logistical challenge before, in the brief stretch of the spring of 2020 when it remained uncertain in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as to whether students would return to in-person schooling and spring sports — which were eventually canceled entirely — would be able to take place.

Zayas said those eventualities would be dealt with should they emerge. In the release announcing Wednesday’s postponements, Zayas said the association was “dedicated to hosting all state championship events” for the spring season.

“We haven’t really started thinking that far ahead,” he said Thursday while preparing to depart for New York City to attend the boys’ tennis team championships. “But, we are typically done by that Saturday of this week on our calendar. It would be something we’d have to continue — just like we’re doing in this situation — to base our decisions on the readily available information that we have.”

While air quality concerns from Canadian wildfires disrupting state championships wasn’t a scenario that NYSPHSAA was necessarily anticipating, Zayas said the association’s experience gained from navigating the many changes brought on by the pandemic has made sudden changes more manageable.

“One of the things I’ve learned from COVID is that anything is possible,” he said. “This is one of those things that nobody can really prepare for, but we’re going to address it as it develops.

Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Shinder.

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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