Athletic administrators, politicians to Cuomo on winter sports: Let them play – The Citizen

Union Springs’ Jose Reyes brings the ball up court against Southern Cayuga during boys basketball Dec. 20, 2019 in Union Springs.
Time is quickly running out for winter interscholastic sports in New York state. 
During a normal academic year, high school teams begin to gather for winter sports in mid-November, with games beginning later that month. The winter season typically runs for almost four months, culminating with state tournaments in March. 
COVID-19 continues to stick its dagger deep into the heart of normalcy. Now in mid-January, most winter sports have been limited to non-contact, socially distanced practices. Games and even scrimmages are prohibited. 
In November, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced that all high-risk sports would not start until at least Jan. 4 — about one-and-a-half months later than usual. Per New York state’s guidelines for sports and recreation, high-risk winter sports include basketball, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling. 

New York state’s approach to indoor sports remains a head-scratcher, writes sports reporter Justin Ritzel. 
Postponements are not uncharted waters for the NYSPHSAA. Fall sports did not begin until Sept. 21, almost a month later than normal. 
However, Jan. 4 has come and gone, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given no indication when high-risk winter sports will be authorized to start. Considering the NYSPHSAA still plans to begin its Fall II season on March 1, winter sports are quickly running out of race track in the athletic calendar. 
The uncertainty has led to high school sports organizations and politicians clamoring for Cuomo to “let them play,” citing New York state’s contact tracing data and surrounding states’ approach to winter sports. 
In December, New York state’s contact tracing data revealed only 1% of COVID-19 infections were traced back to sports (youth, club, high school or otherwise), compared to 74% coming from household gatherings). Furthermore, only 0.46% of cases were passed from one high school student to another. 
According to MaxPreps, New York is one of only three states without a plan to begin high-risk winter sports. Thirty-four states have already begun winter sports, while 12 and the District of Columbia have a start date in place. Only one state, Hawaii, has already canceled winter sports. 
New York neighbors Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont are among those that have already started winter sports, while Connecticut and New Jersey also have already started. 
On Jan. 14, the New York State Athletic Administrators Association directed a letter to Cuomo advocating for a path forward. 
“As a professional association, we ask for this with the knowledge that those sports are not only safe to run, but will be overseen by Athletic Administrators that have worked tirelessly to develop protocols to deal with the COVID-19 virus should there be an isolated case,” the NYSAAA wrote. “We have followed the (National Federation of High Schools), CDC, and (Department of Health) guidelines to the letter to begin our limited seasons and now feel confident that after seeing how the rest of the country has celebrated successes, it is time for New York to lead again.”
Politicians are also joining that chorus. State Sen. John Mannion released a statement on Jan. 16 citing his desire for sports’ return.
“It’s been proven in other aspects of our pandemic life that these activities can occur safely,” Mannion said. “Many club and travel teams — which are not accessible to everyone — have continued to play.
“Scholarships are at stake. So is the mental health and well-being of our students who have suffered greatly by the loss of a traditional high school experience. I believe that with the correct plan in place we can resume high school athletic competitions safely and quickly.”
On Jan. 15, state Sen. Pam Helming wrote a letter to Cuomo referencing how many student-athletes and families have reached out in “passionate support for safely resuming winter sports.”
“Extracurricular activities provide an important outlet for young people,” Helming said in her letter. “The skills and character they build as part of a team sport are critical for their socialization and wellbeing. This is especially important, due to the fact that many students have experienced a great deal of isolation throughout the pandemic.
“I respectfully request that your administration and the New York State Health Department of Health reconsider the current ‘high risk’ classification for winter and fall sports. The current regulations allow students to practice, but not compete. This is counterintuitive and incredibly frustrating for both students and coaches.”
While wishes for high-risk winter sports continues, New York does allow several other sports, considered low- or moderate-risk, to compete just as the state permitted in the fall. Bowling, swimming and indoor track are currently OK by the state’s standard (cross country, field hockey, golf and soccer were among fall’s approved sports). 
However, while the NYSPHSAA allowed low- and moderate-risk sports to begin on Nov. 30, not all have been able to. Remote learning forced Cayuga County schools like Auburn and Weedsport (both offer bowling and boys swimming in the winter) to delay plans for approved winter sports, as extracurriculars only take place with in-person or hybrid learning models.
Indoor track, while approved by the state, couldn’t leap enough hurdles to begin in central New York due to lack of available facilities. 
There’s also the Fall II season to consider. Beginning March 1, Fall II will include low- and moderate-risk sports for schools that opted out in September and, the state hopes, high-risk fall sports such as football and volleyball. 
The plan for Fall II will be to play through April 30, overlapping slightly with the spring season that is scheduled to start April 19. The NYSPHSAA does not have any rules prohibiting dual participation (ie: playing multiple sports during the same season), as that decision is left up to the state’s 11 individual sections. 
Sports reporter Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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Sports Reporter
Justin Ritzel is a sports reporter for The Citizen. Justin has been covering high school sports and minor league baseball in Cayuga County since 2015.
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Onondaga Community College will not participate in spring sports this upcoming semester, the college announced on Friday.
State Sen. John Mannion, who represents parts of Cayuga and Onondaga counties, believes New York can implement the necessary protocols that wo…

State championships for winter sports have been canceled, the NYSPHSAA announced on Friday. The start date for high-risk sports, such as basketball and hockey, have also been delayed indefinitely. 

Athletic directors from Auburn, Skaneateles and Weedsport discuss the recently-completed fall season, their thoughts on spectator policies, and obstacles for interscholastic sports in the coming months. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that high-risk sports, such as basketball, hockey, and wrestling, can begin Feb. 1 with local health departments’ approval. 
Union Springs’ Jose Reyes brings the ball up court against Southern Cayuga during boys basketball Dec. 20, 2019 in Union Springs.
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