After Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Monday announcement cleared the way for most fall sports to begin practicing and playing Sept. 21, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association began the process of navigating the governor’s guidance Tuesday, Aug. 25, with the goal of facilitating some sort of fall sports season.

“The flavor is, let’s try to give the kids some chance to play,” Section IV Executive Director Ben Nelson told The Daily Star. “We aren’t worried about sections, we aren’t worried about state titles, maybe not even league titles. At this point, if we could get kids to practice and play a little, that would be great.”

According to a NYSPHSAA media release, the association held meetings with the state’s 11 section executive directors and convened its COVID-19 Task Force on Tuesday. The meetings follow a previously announced plan for the days following guidance from the state.

Cuomo announced Monday that low risk and moderate risk youth sports, as classified by the Department of Health, will be permitted to begin practicing and playing Sept. 21. During a media conference, Cuomo specifically mentioned tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey and swimming as “lower-risk sports.” Golf is also among the sports listed as low risk by the DOH.

“Schools will be coming back, there will be a little bit of a period to judge what is happening, and Sept. 21 they can begin to practice and play all across the state,” Cuomo said during the conference.

Sports identified as high risk, with Cuomo specifically naming football, wrestling, rugby and ice hockey, will be permitted to begin practice Sept. 21, but will not be permitted to begin playing games before Dec. 31. Volleyball is also listed as high risk by the DOH, as are basketball, contact lacrosse, martial arts and competitive cheer.

There are also restrictions on where teams can travel, according to Cuomo, who said teams are limited to travel practices or games against teams from the same region or a region with which a border is shared.

He also said that schools will be responsible for following further guidance provided by the DOH. That guidance includes requirements for standard physical distancing and the wearing of masks. The lone exception for those not required to wear masks when six feet of physical distancing is not possible are participants.

The guidance also limits indoor spaces to 50% occupancy and limits spectators to two per participant.

“Again, we are doing this in phases, we want to see what the effect is, we want to see how this works. Schools opening in general is a big question mark,” Cuomo said, noting the the fall may bring a “second wave” of the outbreak.

Cuomo’s announcement produced more questions than answers about the fall sports season Monday night, and Tuesday’s release from NYSPHSAA provided little in the way of specific decisions. But the release echoed Nelson’s message about enabling a season rather than debating whether or not to have one.

The release stated that meetings would continue this week “to address the number of required practices student-athletes will need before participating in a scrimmage or contest, the maximum number of contests and games to be permitted during the season and the development of considerations for schools to utilize as interscholastic athletics return to schools and communities throughout the state.”

“We are encouraged and appreciative of Gov. Cuomo authorizing the start of the fall sports seasons for low and moderate risk sports and affording high risk sports the opportunity to begin practicing on Sept. 21,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas said in the release. “As the governing body for interscholastic sports in NYS, our primary role will be to work with schools, coaches and parents to ensure recommended COVID-19 guidelines are practiced vigilantly for the safety and wellness of all student-athletes. Over 200,000 students participate in the fall high school sports seasons and yesterday’s announcement was certainly a positive step for all those athletes.”

With the state government giving permission for sports to begin and NYSPHSAA working to produce specific guidelines for school districts, Nelson said school districts will have the liberty to decide for themselves whether or not to have students participate in sports this fall.

“Right now, we are going by what the governor said,” Nelson said. “We can start the 21st, but I know some schools probably won’t. Each school has the right to decide what is best and safest for them.” 

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