Local high school sports return

Rob Maeske
The Chronicle-Express

Sports deemed "high-risk" for the spread of Covid to begin practices and play this month, but with masks and without spectators

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) has announced that Governor Cuomo and the State Department of Health (NYSDOH) have given approval for sports deemed high-risk for the spread of COVID-19 to begin practices and play starting in February. Individual schools will still need approval from their respective county Depts. of Health.

After consultation with local school athletic programs, Yates DOH officially gave its approval Jan. 28.

NYSPHSAA released an updated guidance document for the Winter and Fall II seasons last Monday, which is available to view on its website.

Those sports designated high-risk include basketball, boys lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, football, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling. Section V includes 12 counties, including Yates, that had to coordinate with one another and the state's COVID-19 task force to move forward with plans to commence with high-risk sports.

The announcement gives schools just enough time to salvage a condensed winter season and was a relief to athletes and coaches across the state, many of whom had given up hope of having a winter sports season at all. The winter season is allowed to commence Feb. 1, while the Fall II season which was postponed last year will be permitted to start March 1, though individual school districts have some leeway to determine their exact start and end dates so long as the winter season does not exceed 22 weeks. NYSPHSAA recommends an end date of May 1 for the Fall II season. As expected, there will be no regional or state championships for either season.

"We went from kind of wishing (high-risk winter sports) were here to having our phones blow up," said Paul Lahue, athletic director at Marcus Whitman. "Which is great ... These kids are ready to go ... They're wishing there was more, of course, but now we have just about everything back. It's not normal but we get it. 

"These kids love their sport and they love their team and it's an important part of school for many kids."

Meanwhile, the spring sports season remains slated to begin April 19 as previously announced and spring state championships remain scheduled at this time.

"We are extremely thankful to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health for providing authorization for all sports to begin," said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director. "I am thrilled our association's member schools will be able to provide over two hundred thousand students with valuable and beneficial participation experiences. Today is certainly a great day for the students of New York State."

While the state has given their regulations, individual counties each have their own rules associated with the commencement of high-risk sports. In Yates County, all student athletes and coaches will be required to wear a mask at all times unless they obtain a medical exemption from their doctor, which must then be approved by the school physician. Unfortunately, no spectators will be allowed to attend games or practices at this time, marking a more strict rule from the two spectators per athlete that were permitted last year. In addition, individual school districts may impose further restrictions if they see fit.

"Providing safe opportunities to our students is always top priority," said Dundee Central School Superintendent Kelly Houck. "Our decisions are always student focused, and even though some of these restrictions and requirements are not necessarily popular, our kids will have the opportunity to participate."

Penn Yan Central School District (PYCSD) Athletic Director Jonathan MacKerchar informed parents during a mandatory pre-season meeting via Google that all varsity games will be streamed on YouTube and the school's social media platforms. MacKerchar said some J.V. and Modified games may be available to watch, but that he could not make any promises at those levels.

Said MacKerchar, "The PYCSD athletic department is very excited for the opportunity to offer our student athletes the sports they have grown to love through their childhood. Superintendent Dennis, (Academy) Principal Pullen and myself have worked very closely with the DOH, Section V, and our coaches to determine what the safest path to return will be."

"We are excited to be able to offer these\ opportunities for our student athletes," said Dundee A.D. Scott Shepardson. "The safety of our athletes and coaches will be our number one concern as we progress through the season."

Penn Yan and Dundee will be offering boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling at the Varsity, J.V. and Modified levels. Pre-season meetings for students, parents and coaches were held Friday night and practices in those sports began Monday, Feb. 1.

Includes reporting from Messenger Post Media writer Robert Chavez

While certain sports deemed "high risk" will be returning to high school gyms, the spectators, such as those at a Penn Yan Academy vs. Bath Haverling game last year, will not.