The New York State Public High School Athletic Association recently announced that fall sports would be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fall season was originally slated to begin on Aug. 24, but has been pushed back to Sept. 21. In addition, the organization has cancelled all fall regional and state championship events. If high school sports remain prohibited, the organization will delay the start of the season until January 2021, and implement a condensed schedule.
“We recognize this is challenging for everyone, but the decisions made at the state level are based upon data and statewide infection rates all in an effort to stop the spread of COVID and reopen responsibly,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director, in a press release. “At this time, Department of Health guidance presented on July 13 prohibits interscholastic athletics across the state. The association will continue to follow state guidance and will work collectively with state officials to ensure high school athletics will start up responsibly in the future. As an association, we must be willing to be flexible and continue to explore all options with students’ safety as our main focus.”
Local school officials expect this to be a big blow regarding whether schools return for in-person instruction or not.
“Athletics is one of our biggest hooks,” said William Floyd superintendent Kevin Coster, adding that the district earned a state designation for scholar athletes.
Coster has also seen a direct correlation between success in school and involvement in sports. It not only encourages physical fitness, but social skills and life lessons. It teaches structure, discipline, family, as well as the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself, according to Robert McIntyre, athletic director for the South Country School District.
“All of our students in school, they shine in different ways,” McIntyre said.
And the mentorship from coaches is a big piece of how sports can be transformational. In South Country, the coaches have set up virtual classrooms to keep teams connected and engaged. Those coaches deliver the life lessons that become so important, and they do it even in the offseason.
“Any [coach] that works at a varsity level here works 12 months with their kids,” Coster said.
And it could pose more issues for seniors, whose fall season is usually spent getting recruited by colleges. But it makes that effort more difficult when there are no games to be played.
“I couldn’t imagine as a senior being in this type of situation,” said William Floyd’s Brian Babst, chairperson of physical education, athletics and health.
According to Babst, college coaches are still recruiting, and he is confident that they will still find the best students for their programs. McIntyre said it will be more difficult, because players need a chance to make film for recruiters. Also, there are players who were about to step up into the spotlight after last year’s seniors graduated who may not get that chance.
“I think it’s going to have a long-lasting effect on this group of kids,” McIntyre said.
Despite the issues presented by a lack of fall sports, the districts will be following state-mandated guidelines and encouraging safety to come first.