Low-risk HS sports to begin Sept. 21

In this Oct. 28, 2019 file photo, Grand Island's Ella Rudney (25) celebrates with her teammates after netting the game-winning goal against Lewiston-Porter in a Section VI Class A-2 semifinals match at Williamsville East High School.

In what has been one of the most difficult years in sports history, Monday brought on some encouraging news.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that low-risk sports will be permitted to begin practice and play on Sept. 21 during this week's first COVID-19 briefing. That's the date that was proposed by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association back in July.

Practices for the fall season were originally scheduled to begin Monday before the pandemic.

Cuomo's announcement opens the door for interscholastic sports like soccer, girls swimming, girls tennis, field hockey and cross country to get some sort of season in. Cuomo also announced that no programs would be permitted to travel to play or practice outside their respective regions until Oct. 19.

Cuomo also said schools need to limit capacity of indoor facilities to no more than 50% occupancy and limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player, in addition to implementing social distancing and face coverings.

"We are doing this in phases," Cuomo said. "We want to see what the effect is. We want to see how it works. Schools opening in general is a big question mark. What could the effect be? The fall is a big question mark. Many of the experts are suggesting there may be a second wave or a recurrence. Phasing will allow us to watch it."

The next step will be what happens with the fall's high-risk sports, which include football, volleyball and cheerleading. Those sports can all begin practicing on Sept. 21 but have yet to be authorized to compete against other schools. 

NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas noted that the organization will meet with executive directors of sections throughout the state and the COVID task force will convene within the next 48 hours.

According to Zayas, NYSPHSAA's directors plan to make their decision on the fall within 72 hours, which slates a potential ruling for Thursday.

Former Lockport athletic director and current Niagara Frontier League president/executive director Pat Burke said the local league is awaiting more instriction.

"The Niagara Frontier League will be waiting for the results of the NYSPHSAA meeting with the section executive directors and the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force that is now scheduled for (today)."

NYSPHSAA already canceled its regional and state championships and delayed the start of the fall season.

NYSPHSAA also has a secondary plan, a condensed three-season scheme, in place if the COVID-19 pandemic causes sports to be delayed or postponed through the remainder of 2020.

The condensed season includes three tentative 10-week sessions beginning with the winter season (Jan. 4-March 13) followed by the fall season (March 1-May 8) and then the spring season (April 5-June 12).

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