New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement this past week that low-risk scholastic sports are allowed to compete beginning on Sept. 21 – and high-risk sports may only practice with no physical contact at the same time – has kickstarted the discussion among local school districts of the feasibility of holding a sports season this fall.
At a meeting on Aug. 31, Superintendent Margo Martin provided an update to the Groton Central School District Board of Education on the state of athletics heading into the school year. At the moment, it is not a given that athletic competition will begin on Sept 21. Section IV is still waiting on the guidance of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) as to how districts can prepare for a fall season.
Based on that guidance, the section will make a decision on whether the fall season will start on the governor’s date or if it will be delayed. One section, that being Section VIII, has already chosen to delay the start of its fall season to January 2021 and will run all three athletic seasons from that point. (Each school will get a vote on the plan created by the section. The majority determines what the section will do.)
“It’s really going to come down to what is the practicality of being able to meet all these guidelines and still have a season,” Martin said.
If Groton were to have a fall season, soccer and cross country would be the only low-risk sports competing, while football and volleyball would be allowed to practice. Martin said schools would be permitted to compete against contiguous regions or counties, but cannot travel across the state to compete.
“Initially, we thought we weren’t going to be able to play a school like Cortland because Cortland is in the Central New York region and we are in the Southern Tier region, but they clarified that you can indeed play counties that you border or regions that you border,” Martin said.
Martin said the New York State Council of School Superintendents wrote a letter to Cuomo outlining its concerns with the approval of sports for the fall and asked him to delay the start of the fall season. Cuomo has responded saying he will not change his decision on the start date.
From a recreational sports perspective, President Sophia Darling said she has trouble seeing how athletics can be played this fall.
“The logistics that go, that are involved in this type of planning,” Darling said. “There are so many other considerations – the spectators … how do you have spectators and what does it look like in terms of distancing out there and the protection of the players, and are you going to have everyone [get tested] coming into the field?”
Martin brought up the guidelines for sports issued by Cuomo for this summer and all the factors that were needed to be taken into consideration, factors that will more than likely need to be considered thoroughly if there were to be a fall season.
“That guidance says two spectators per player; all spectators have to maintain appropriate social distancing,” she said. “Schools have to have set up hand sanitizer stations at the entrances and exits. You have to be monitoring the use of your facilities in certain terms of maintaining social distance with restrooms. You have to make decisions about concession stands and do you even allow them at all. You have to make decisions about charging money at the door – if they’re recommending no cash at all be exchanged, and that it be handled via some kind of PayPal/Venmo system.”
She said bussing would be another issue for the district as well.
“I mean, we already struggle to get teams places without a pandemic, right,” Martin said. “So if we’re trying to put two teams together on a bus to save drivers and get them where they need to go on time, you can’t do that right now.”
Elementary School Principal Kent Maslin said allowing athletic competition could impact in-person learning if an outbreak of COVID-19 were to occur because of, for instance, traveling between districts to play.
“We know how important athletics are to so many children,” Maslin said. “We also realize that all that transferring between communities and other places puts us potentially at risk of losing the opportunity to teach the kids in person, and that’s a difficult balance to strike, right?”
NYSPHSAA’s guidance is expected to be released on Sept. 4. NYSPHSAA has already announced that the start of the winter season will be pushed back from Nov. 16 to 30.