By Mike Zummo
First the state, and now the counties have elected to let them play as seven Hudson Valley counties, including Orange and Ulster announced approval for high-risk sports to begin play, and one area district is ready to go.
The authorization was effective Monday and will give high-risk winter sports – basketball, wrestling, and cheerleading – an opportunity to play for a one-month season if schools choose to do so.
It also authorizes football, volleyball, and boys’ lacrosse to practice and play as well.
Valley Central Interim Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Bill Miller said on Friday the district is going ahead with winter high-risk sports and is planning for all three levels.
However, Miller said levels may be combined if the numbers are low. Even though they had not previously been authorized, the district had been holding sign-ups for winter sports.
“Some people may not have bothered because it wasn’t approved,” Miller said.
Pine Bush Superintendent Tim Maines said the district is waiting for clearer guidance from either the state or Orange County Department of Health.
Wallkill Superintendent Kevin Castle said on Friday the school district shared the Ulster County Dept. of Health guidelines with its attorney and insurance carrier and will decide once they provide documents.
While that is happening, Castle said Athletic Director B.J. Masopust and the district’s coaches are developing “return to play” documents.
“We need to ensure everything is in order before we make a recommendation to the Board of Education,” Castle said. “Safety of our students is our number one priority.”
Chapel Field Christian School’s only high-risk sport is basketball. School officials did not respond to inquiries.
Chapel Field, Pine Bush and Valley Central all play in the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“Many people have contacted my office in support of playing sports,” Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said. “It is important that this be approached as a region, but that families make their own educated decisions based on their student athlete and other household members.”
Wallkill plays in the Mid-Hudson Athletic League, which mostly encompasses Ulster County.
The MHAL also has teams in northern Dutchess County, making regional approval key for Section 9 competition.
However, after initially joining the seven-county agreement, MHAL Director Dennis Burkett said the county Health Dept. sent out additional guidance, reported to be weekly COVID-19 tests for high-risk sports athletes that brought the process to a halt in the county.
“At the present time, I am not aware of any Ulster-based MHAL school that can satisfy the criteria as we understand it,” Burkett said.
The OCIAA extends into Sullivan County and has one school – Kingston – from Ulster County. The MHAL also has teams in northern Dutchess County, making regional approval key for Section 9 competition.
The Section 9 Athletic Council launched into action immediately, holding an emergency meeting on Jan. 25, in which Executive Director Greg Ransom was authorized to write letters asking for approval from Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties.
The council also announced that it scheduled the winter high-risk season from Feb. 1 until Feb. 28. Low- and moderate risk sports were authorized to start on Jan. 4 in the MHAL and Jan. 19 in the OCIAA.
The Fall 2 season will begin practice on March 1 and is scheduled to end on April 18 with all sports authorized.
Practice for the spring season is scheduled to begin on April 19 until an undetermined ending date, which depends on Regents exams and state playoff dates. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has canceled state championships for the fall and winter seasons, but as of Jan. 22, Executive Director Robert Zayas said spring championships are still on.