Syracuse, N.Y. — New state Department of Health guidelines issued Friday appear to give the green light for high school and recreational sports considered as a high-risk for the spread of coronavirus to begin Feb. 1.
As far as scholastic competition goes, that covers activities such as wrestling, hockey, basketball and competitive cheerleading. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had placed those sports on hold, allowing athletes to train individually but not practice as a team or play.
“Yeah! Let’s go, baby! I’m so pumped. I’m so happy for the kids,” said West Genesee girls basketball coach Stafford Spreter.
“I couldn’t be more happy or excited to get out there and finally be able to play,” Jamesville De-Witt girls basketball player Momo LaClair. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for and I think I speak for everyone when I say we won’t let this season go to waste.”
The new DOH regulations read:
“Effective February 1, 2021, participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training and, further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments, only as permitted by the respective local health authorities, (i.e., county health departments),” the guidelines read.
“Local health authorities should consider the following factors in authorizing or continuing to prohibit higher risk sports and recreational activities as, in many areas, these factors may weigh against permitting such activities:
▪ whether there has been a more-transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the area,
▪ local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity, and
▪ local ability to monitor and enforce compliance.
For all lower, moderate, and higher risk sports, travel for practice or play is prohibited outside of the region or contiguous counties/regions. Interstate travel for practice or play is strongly discouraged and, if undertaken, must strictly adhere to the requirements of the State’s travel advisory.
Travel for practice or play to, or from, any area within New York that has been designated as a red or orange zone may only be permitted following consultation with the respective state or local health authorities with consideration of the above mentioned factors.”
Onondaga County executive Ryan McMahon has been among the many politicians statewide encouraging the governor to green light the sports.
In Section III, the winter sports season had been penciled in for Jan. 4-Feb. 28. Factoring in the required number of practices, teams would have roughly 2-3 weeks to play games and matches.
“Like everyone else we’re excited, excited for the kids. It gives the kids a chance to look forward to something,” said Liverpool boys basketball coach Ryan Blackwell.
“It sounds like we’re going to have a season,” said West Genesee hockey coach Frank Colabufo. “I told the kids (at practice) I don’t know what this means, but this is the best news we’ve had all year.”
It’s possible that given the tight turnaround, some schools may opt to skip winter sports entirely. Section III executive director John Rathbun said he did not know where individual school districts currently stand on that issue.
Bishop Grimes’ Bob McKenney said as a boys basketball coach at the school he’s excited about the news, but as its athletic director he knows there’s a lot of work to do. Within the next few days ADs will be meeting to determine a wide range of issues, from travel to schedules to mask requirements.
“We’ve got to get the schedules, we’ve got to figure out the length of the season,” McKenney said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions. It’s going to be an interesting week. A lot needs to happen.”
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association sent out a tweet that seemed to express surprise at the announcement.
The news would also seem to be a good indicator for football, volleyball and boys lacrosse, all of which fall into the high-risk category. Football and volleyball are now slated for Fall sports season II, which would begin in March. Boys lacrosse is contested in the spring season.
“I’ve been skating the past two months. I’ve been praying this is going to happen,” said James Schneid, a West Genesee hockey and lacrosse player. “It’s a great day.”