The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday, Dec. 1, that the start date for “high risk” winter sports will be moved to Jan. 4, 2021, as COVID-19 continues to spread.

High risk sports, as designated by the New York State Department of Health, that are affected by the NYSPHSAA announcement are basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling.

“[The decision] was based upon a couple factors, one being we’re seeing a rise in infection rates, another being we’re getting a lot of concerns from our member schools, the membership that we work on, on behalf of almost 800 schools, that they have concerns with the high-risk winter sports at this point and time,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said.

“The other fact of the matter is we don’t have authorization from state officials to participate in high-risk sports at this time, so really we had to go ahead and postpone the start date and remain optimistic that we’ll get authorization here in the next few weeks to be able and start on Jan. 4 with those high-risk sports,” Zayas added.

Until New York state officials grant authorization, NYSPHSAA member schools are not able to participate in sports that are deemed to have a high risk of spreading COVID-19.

“I continue to stress the fact that the Jan. 4 date is still contingent upon authorization from state officials. So although we have it as Jan. 4 at this point and time, we really need the authorization in order to make that Jan. 4 date a reality,” Zayas said.

The decision to postpone came from the NYSPHSAA executive committee, which is composed of four elected officers. According to the association’s constitution, the committee has the power to make decisions between regularly scheduled meetings. The committee came to a decision following Zayas’ recommendation to postpone the scheduled start date.

Low- and moderate-risk winter sports were permitted to begin Nov. 30, as the association previously announced. Low- and moderate-risk sports include bowling, gymnastics, indoor track and field, skiing and swimming and diving.

Locally, Sections III and IV have indefinitely postponed indoor track and field for the winter season. Section IV has not made decisions regarding all other winter sports regardless of high- or low-risk distinction.

Section III announced Nov. 5 that winter sports seasons for basketball, ice hockey, swimming and diving, bowling, competitive cheerleading, rifle, wrestling, winter volleyball and skiing could proceed with their seasons beginning Dec. 14.

In that announcement, basketball, ice hockey, cheerleading, wrestling and volleyball were listed with asterisks awaiting further recommendations from NYSPHSAA that were given last week.

Starting on Nov. 30, once athletes have participated in the minimum number of practices set by NYSPHSAA, regular season contests were able to begin.

“I don’t look at it like we’re kicking the can down the road, or we’re delaying the inevitable” Zayas said.

“I look at this as a strategy that has to be utilized during this crisis. We don’t know what’s going to transpire, what’s going to happen over the next few weeks and the next few months, so this is the best alternative that we have at this point and time to go ahead and make a decision that is going to give us the ability to hopefully provide these participation opportunities for student athletes.”

Zayas’ group works on behalf of members from all across the state. Zayas said the association recognizes that circumstances across the state vary, and that for some communities it is feasible to play, while other areas have higher risks of infection.

“I wouldn’t lead people on. If I didn’t think that there was any possibility, we would just have to make a very difficult decision. But at this point and time, I’m very optimistic that there’s still a chance that we’re going be able to play,” Zayas said.

Max Lang, staff writer, can be reached at mlang@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7209.

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