Fall high school sports in jeopardy

In this Oct. 17, 2015 file photo, Niagara Falls quarterback Drew Spurback drops back to pass in a game against Lockport at NFHS.

If there's going to be fall scholastic sports in New York state this coming school year, the only thing we know for sure is it isn't going to start today.

Worse, there's a growing, unsettling possibility that it it might not be at all.

What's in store for upcoming high school varsity, junior varsity and modified fall sports practices? The fall sports seasons? Are we playing or not?

Players, parents, coaches and administrators throughout the Empire State are anxious and full of questions in regards to the upcoming start of a 2020-21 school year — a start unlike any other in U.S. history.

After shattering the dreams of student-athletes around the country last spring by forcing an early end to scholastic spring sports seasons and the cancelation of state tournaments, the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly moving past the point this summer of having no impact on the coming school year.

Something's going to be different, but athletic directors including Lockport's Todd Sukdolak say that until the New York State Public High School Athletic Association COCID-19 Task Force Committee meets again in the coming days to announce that decision, everything remains on hold. 

Sukdolak said he other ADs across the state were recently asked to submit their vote to the NYSPHSAA on which of the six scenarios they'd prefer the state take in regards to playing high school sports this year.

The six scenarios and corresponding options could serve as a “starting point or framework” to assist the task force, but no finalized plans will be made, “until guidance and direction are provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the NYS Education Department,” according to a press release issued June 30 by the NYSPHSAA.

Sukdolak said he voted for scenario 3B, which would have all high school sports beginning this January.

“I picked that one in particular because I felt it was in the best interest of our kids,” Sukdolak said. “Under that plan, all sports would start in January. There's other scenarios, but with all three sports seasons starting in January, even if we have to play teams strictly within our league, or section, at least we get all three seasons in.”

Sukdolak also said it's highly unlikely fall sports will go on without any changes at all. If the task force committee decides in the coming days that all state sports can go on without any changes, Sukdolak said the simple truth is we're not ready.

“It doesn't work like that,” Sukdolak said. “The first thing we'll have to do for all fall sports is implement the first phase, which will involve working with up to 10 kids at a time with no contact, weight room and you can do cardio. Then we'll have to figure out an appropriate schedule, which might involve only playing inside our section or our league.” 

Under the first of six scenarios, schools would open for in-person learning and athletic participation would be approved. No changes would be needed and all sports would be played as scheduled.

In scenario 2, baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, girls lacrosse, and bowling would be held from Aug. 24 through Dec. 5, followed by basketball, indoor track and field, gymnastics, boys swimming, ice hockey, skiing, volleyball and unified bowling between Nov. 16 and March 20; and a spring season from March 15 to June 12 which would include football, soccer, field hockey, cross country, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, boys tennis, wrestling, and unified basketball.

Under the third scenario, the school year would be split into five eight-week seasons, starting with golf, tennis, bowling and cross country from Aug. 24 to Oct. 17; swimming, gymnastics and volleyball from Oct. 19 to Dec. 12; basketball, indoor track, ice hockey, skiing and unified bowling from Jan. 4 to Feb. 19; football, soccer, field hockey, competitive cheer and unified basketball from March 1 to April 24; and baseball, softball, outdoor track, lacrosse, wrestling and unified basketball from April 26 to June 12.

Note that scenarios 2 and 3 include either hybrid (in school and at home) learning or full distance (at home) learning with sports being allowed. If sports seasons needed to be adjusted, the task force came up with two possible looks for a new format to the athletic year based on its low, moderate or high risk level.

Scenarios four and five will serve as a baseline for procedures if the state went to hybrid or distance learning and did not allow sports to start at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The first season could start in January and run for 10 weeks in basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track, skiing, and boys swimming.

A second 10-week season would start March 1 for football, competitive cheer, wrestling, cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls swimming, volleyball, and unified bowling. The third 10-week season, starting April 5, would include baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and unified basketball.

Under scenario six, if regions continued to be in various phases of reopening with some sections allowed to start high school sports and others not allowed, sports seasons would then need to be amended on a sectional or regional basis, with a focus on engaging students and providing participation opportunities.

Late on Monday night, NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas tweeted, “Interscholastic athletics are not permitted at the time of publication and must only operate in accordance with forthcoming State issued guidance."

“We already know we're not supposed to do anything right now,” said a frustrated Sukdolak. “Hopefully we'll hear something different very soon.”

Follow veteran local sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.

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