The surge in COVID-19 cases involving the highly contagious Omicron variant has wreaked havoc on college and professional sports schedules, and there is growing concern that it could affect high school sports on Long Island.
"There is no mandate from the state and our school districts are encouraged to push forward, but they can decide individually to pause or temporarily shut down," said Tom Combs, executive director for Section XI, which governs Suffolk’s school sports. "If we have several schools that must be paused or can’t honor the schedule, we’ll deal with it accordingly. At this moment, we do not have that kind of situation in Suffolk County."
Pat Pizzarelli, executive director for Section VIII, which governs Nassau’s school sports, has encouraged schools that have been forced to postpone games to make them up on Sundays.
"We’ve had some games that have gone down because of positive cases or quarantining," Pizzarelli said. "And it’s likely with a shortage of officials, games will not get rescheduled. But the alternative is for them to open the schools and play on Sundays. Only a few school districts are really taking advantage of that opportunity."
Combs said there have been a few short pauses throughout Suffolk and some games have been postponed, but most of the schedule has been played.
"There has been minimal impact, nothing significant," he said. "The leadership in our schools have followed the safety protocols and done everything required to keep us playing. There is still some uncertainty out there, so no one is taking any chances."
Masks are required for all indoor sports this winter. That is quite different from the last winter season, in which the wearing of masks was not a requirement but a recommendation.
"Indoor sports are an extension of the classroom," Combs said. "There is no opting out of the mask; they have to be worn to participate."
Combs broke down the different winter sports and mask-wearing.
"Our swimmers take the mask off just as they enter the water for an event," he said. "They drop the mask into a Ziploc bag, and when the race is over, they put the mask back on. We never hear a peep from the swimming community; they’ve been excellent. Our wrestlers are always wearing a mask. If it comes off during a bout, they wait for a stoppage and put it back on. Track, bowling and basketball are also required to wear masks at all times."
Pizzarelli has considered the possibility of some schools not playing if star players are missing.
"We don’t cancel because a star player is down, let’s get that straight," he said. "Just because you’re missing a few players, you can still play the game. We’re going to try and reschedule every game if we can. But if we can’t, we can’t. We were getting more postponements in the week before Christmas. I’m hoping individual school districts are taking the necessary precautions and keeping everyone safe, from the athletes to the coaches, fans and officials. It’s still crazy times and we have to get through this together."