Masks off, game off: Avoca/Prattsburgh withdraws
Avoca/Prattsburgh refuses to play Scio in sectionals unless visitors wear masks
AVOCA — Avoca/Prattsburgh has withdrawn from Friday’s Section V, Class D2 playoff game against Scio, citing a disagreement over the wearing of masks.
In a joint statement from Avoca Superintendent Stephen Saxton and Prattsburgh Superintendent Kory Bay, the Steuben County schools claimed the Scio program is “refusing to wear face coverings.”
“They have not and will not require their athletes to wear masks,” stated the Avoca and Prattsburgh superintendents. “We cannot put our student-athletes at risk by allowing them to play an unmasked opponent.”
A message to Scio Central School Superintendent Jennifer Cappelletti had not yet been returned as of this writing.
At issue is different interpretations of state guidelines. Steuben County players have been required to wear masks throughout contests this fall. Allegany County, in contrast, has allowed players to decide if they’re comfortable wearing a mask. Man games in the county have not featured consistent mask-wearing throughout soccer contests.
The official guidance from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) states “individuals must wear acceptable face coverings unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing).” Coaches and trainers who are not directly engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering.
Section V Executive Director Kathy Hoyt said all school districts were made aware of the guidelines Oct. 22, noting the two biggest areas of focus were the limits on spectators, which settled on two per player, and the policy on facial coverings.
Hoyt said it is “outside her capacity” to interpret the state guidelines. The executive director said she has been in contact with Scio’s administration.
“They indicated they are following the New York state guidelines,” Hoyt said.
The Avoca and Prattsburgh superintendents said they consulted with “many people,” including the district’s medical director, “who strongly advised against playing an unmasked team.”
“Our primary mission as a school district is to keep our school buildings open and our students attending classes,” Saxton and Bay stated. “We have all put a great deal of effort and commitment into adhering to recommended health and safety guidelines to keep our students and staff safe since school reopened. It would be impossible and unsafe to go forward with a competition that could put the entire boy's varsity soccer team, and potentially our whole student body and staff, at risk by playing against a team that refused to follow basic safety protocol and the spirit of the rule. This is especially worrisome given the recent reports that show spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases throughout Allegany County and New York State.”
Since Saturday, the respective health departments in each county have reported 56 new COVID-19 cases in Steuben County and 29 new cases in Allegany County. The latest figures report 541 total confirmed cases in Allegany County and 1,302 confirmed cases in Steuben County to date. Just over 150 cases are active in Steuben, with just over 100 active in Allegany.
Scio Central School has yet to report a COVID-19 case among students or staff. Avoca has had one teacher and one student test positive, none in the last 14 days. Prattsburgh has reported one positive test of a student and two positive tests of teachers/staff, including one in the last seven days.
Steuben County’s stricter COVID-19 athletics policy has resulted in several of the league’s soccer programs, including the Alfred-Almond and Arkport/Canaseraga boys, moving their Round 1 home games to neutral fields in Allegany County at Houghton College and Bolivar-Richburg.
The moves allow both teams to have fans in attendance. Steuben County has limited spectators to the home team.
“As a section, we wanted to make sure both teams could have spectators,” Hoyt said. “The higher seed could relocate to a neutral site of their choosing if needed.
“As a section, we built-in mechanisms for the highest level of participation for our athletes. As a section, we decided to move forward with sectionals, but it has been a very huge challenge.”
Scio (2-6-4) is the defending Section V, Class D2 champion, and was set to visit Avoca/Prattsburgh (3-4-3) Friday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
“We realize this decision is disappointing to some, especially those on the soccer team and their families,” said the Avoca and Prattsburgh superintendents. “The team did an outstanding job this season to get to sectionals and we are extremely proud of these student-athletes and their coaches. The difficult decision to withdraw the team from sectional play does not diminish their efforts and successes.”