Given my closer-than-many connection with coaches, athletes and administrators, I am asked about 10 times per week for updates on whether the high school fall sports season will proceed as usual. Given my propensity for resourcefulness, I picked up the phone and called a guy who fields such questions not 10 times per week, but 10 times per day.
Bill Bryant—who has helped me out with at least a hundred columns over the past 27 years, as the Athletic Director for the Ithaca City School District and in his current position as Executive Director of the Interscholastic Athletic Conference—was happy to help me sort out some of the challenges facing public school districts. He explained that the NYSPHSAA has assembled a task force to address these challenges, and that several scenarios have emerged as possibilities. While I admit that it can put an administrator on the spot to try to piece together a puzzle with so many moving parts, and that more answers are forthcoming, but I still believe it’s important that people understand some of the challenges.
“Of course,” Bryant stated, “transportation is one of the biggest issues.”
He explained that social distancing regulations dictate that buses can have one student in every other seat, it takes a bus’s capacity from about 66 down to 11. This would translate to unmanageable schedules if a driver were to return from his or her third or fourth bus run to take kids home after school, and the time has passed when a sports team would need to be on the road for a game.
Anyone who travels regionally sees signs in just about every community pleading for residents to apply to become bus drivers, and the shortage of drivers is, of course, just one of the shortages.
“The schools were not getting the state aid they needed anyway,” Bryant offered, “and this just makes matters worse.”
According to Bryant, the task force has thus far laid out six potential scenarios. It is a bit premature to go into each one in detail until after the next task force meeting happens some time within the next couple of weeks, but a rudimentary overview of a couple of them seems doable.
One possibility is for Governor Andrew Cuomo and NY State Health Department to proclaim that “All systems are go,” so to speak, and kids are back in the classrooms, things unfold as usual. That seems an unlikely scenario, and another idea being tossed around involves 10-week seasons, starting with “winter sports” in January. That season would run into March, and “fall sports” might run from March until the end of April, and “spring sports” like baseball, softball and lacrosse might operate from the end of April to the second week of June. Such a scenario would skip state championship tournaments and such, but a compressed time frame would naturally create a number of changes.
Again, these are just some possibilities, and Bryant’s frustration is apparent as he attends his ongoing Zoom meetings to help navigate the process. Discussing yet another possibility, he said “Pushing fall sports back a few weeks would take them into late November and December, and while some football and soccer teams play that late in the playoffs, most have never faced such weather challenges.”
Another one of the aforementioned moving parts is one that Bryant takes very seriously. “Some of the athletes have been working out regularly during this time, but many have not and coming back to intensely and too soon creates some high-risk scenarios,” he said. “That’s a big factor to consider. We don’t need any athletes getting injured by us not doing this the right way.”
Bryant also understands how important a role sports play in the overall lives of young people, and he said, “I’m Old School in that regard. We gotta get these kids back with their coaches, back with their friends. They need that connection, that socialization.” For now, he added, “It’s a waiting game, and it’s unfortunate and it’s frustrating.”