By Mike Zummo
After 10 long months, the state will finally let them play.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced on Friday afternoon that the New York State Dept. of Health has authorized high-risk sports to begin practice and compete, beginning on Feb. 1 if they are permitted by their local health authorities.
“Today was an exciting day for the state athletic association, but it was more of an exciting day for the student athletes throughout New York State that are going to be positively impacted by the authorization that was provided by the Dept. of Health and the governor’s office,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said.
High-risk winter sports include basketball, wrestling, and cheerleading, fall sports football, volleyball and cheerleading, and boys’ lacrosse in the spring.
If the local health departments don’t give approval, high risk sports will be limited to individual or distance group training and organized no/low contact group training.
“Then they just can’t have contact or can’t participate in any games or contests,” Zayas said.
The guidance states that responsible parties must limit capacity to no more than 50 percent of the maximum occupancy and spectators are limited to two per player.
However, individual sections can be more restrictive.
“Some sections are considering if they haven’t already made the determination to not allow fans to attend games,” Zayas said.
Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R-99) on Jan. 14 announced he planned to sponsor legislation to compel the governor and Health Dept. to authorize high-risk sports. He thanked those that helped join the advocation effort.
“This truly demonstrates that, when people join together to advocate for what’s right, we can make a real difference,” Schmitt said.
Zayas said there was no indication approval was coming in the weeks since Schmitt’s call.
“We didn’t hear anything different than what we had heard in the past few weeks,” Zayas said. “I think this an example of our state officials looking at the situation and providing authorization at a time when students very much needed to have something positive. Participating in interscholastic athletics will certainly serve as a positive in so many student-athletes’ lives.”
Schmitt sent a letter on Sunday to Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman and County Executive Steve Neuhaus, along with their Rockland County counterparts, urging them to approve high-risk sports without delay so interscholastic sports can resume on Feb. 1.
“Thankfully, our local and regional interscholastic sports organizations already have plans in place that allow for safe and healthy competition during COVID-19 for all sports,” Schmitt wrote. “Our coaches in New York State are trained and certified to keep our kids safe and many have earned additional COVID-19 safety certifications.”
Winter low-and moderate-risk sports began this month and at press time it is unclear the fate of basketball, wrestling, and cheerleading. The winter season is scheduled to end at the end of February.
Section 9’s Fall 2 season, which will comprise of fall sports is scheduled to begin March 1 and end in the middle of April, and then the spring season is scheduled to begin April 19.