ALBANY, N.Y. – Interscholastic sports considered to be lower risk by the governor’s office are allowed to practice and play in New York State beginning Monday, Sept. 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
These sports include tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and swimming.
Higher risk sports such as football, volleyball, wrestling, rugby, and ice hockey may practice but cannot play, Cuomo said.
Teams will not be allowed to practice or play outside of their regions until Monday, Oct. 19.
“They are the regions that we’ve used in the phased reopening,” Cuomo said.
For schools in Section 1, that means teams cannot travel outside of the Mid-Hudson region.
“The state has done a lot of research on how we can safely have our students participate in school sports and get the exercise they need, and the guidance we developed will allow lower-risk sports to begin practicing and playing next month,” Cuomo said.
For at least one local athletic director, the press conference raised even more questions about the fall season.
“It’s a lot to take in, simply because I don’t quite understand what it exactly means for our sports that can practice, but can’t compete,” said Christian McCarthy, athletic director of Katonah-Lewisboro Schools. “What are they prepping for? I don’t know what it all means.”
New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s COVID-19 Task Force met Tuesday to discuss and interpret the guidance handed down by the governor’s office. However, McCarthy said, each district or region may have a different risk tolerance when it comes to offering fall sports. Nassau County’s superintendents, for example, agreed Wednesday to postpone all sports until 2021.
“Looking at the glass half full, we are going to have some form of athletics this fall, which I think is wonderful for the kids,” McCarthy said. “We have to now figure out what that means, what it looks like, what sports we offer, etc. There is a lot to be considered in the coming days.”
McCarthy said he would not be surprised if a handful of local districts form cohorts to compete against each other.
In his opinion, McCarthy said, “John Jay shouldn’t be going to Arlington High School then White Plains High School and then Nyack High School. Not because they’re not wonderful communities; it’s because now we’re taking potential contaminants from one area of the county to other [areas]. I think we have to be mindful of those things. I think we may see pockets of schools teaming up.”
McCarthy was personally surprised to see soccer listed as a low-risk sport. Cross country was also listed as lower risk, but the athletic director wondered if larger meets would be restricted. In many races, he said, the runners begin at the starting line standing shoulder to shoulder, which would also have to be addressed.
Though NYSPHSAA has already clarified that remote learners can participate in high school sports, McCarthy said it throws another wrench into the planning process.
“This a whole different animal that we’re working with here,” McCarthy said. “There are a lot of moving parts, and I have zero answers right now.”
Only about 3 minutes of Monday’s 38-minute press briefing were dedicated to the topic of interscholastic sports, which Cuomo repeatedly referred to as “youth sports.” He also said higher-risk sports like football can “continue to practice,” but not play. Interscholastic sports, however, have been prohibited from practicing since March.
With a day to reflect on the governor’s guidance, Dom DeMatteo, coach of the Mahopac High School varsity football team, said on Tuesday that he remains puzzled by what he saw and heard.
“I don’t think they are really well-informed, at the state level in the governor’s office, about how interscholastic sports work,” DeMatteo said. “Nor do I think at this point they really care.”
Most confusing to DeMatteo was the governor’s slide about higher-risk sports, which put football in the same category as wrestling and ice hockey, which are winter sports, and rugby, which is not an interscholastic sport. Volleyball, which was not mentioned during the briefing, was later included on the list of higher-risk sports.
“I’m confused and therefore frustrated,” DeMatteo said. “I don’t know if that guidance was really guidance.”
The Mahopac coach said the state’s guidance lacks logic.
“You can practice but you can’t play. What?” he said. “You can study but we’re not going to test you. You don’t understand kids for one second if you say kids can practice but not play. Don’t insult me like that, and don’t continue to play with the emotions of these children.”
DeMatteo, whose father, Tony, is the head coach of the Somers varsity football team, said he has not yet offered guidance to his players and parents.
“To say that we cannot practice but not play, I don’t know what they expect us to tell the kids,” DeMatteo said. “I don’t know that you can prepare for a math test for a month, never take the math test, and expect to get quality participation from the students…I don’t know what to tell them. This is crazy.”
DeMatteo withheld comment on football potentially being pushed to the spring, saying it depends on the circumstances. But if football overlaps with lacrosse and baseball, that would be a “nightmare” scenario for his program, which has many multi-sport athletes.