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NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas determined to get seasons played when schools reopen

NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas speaks to the

NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas speaks to the attendees at the First Annual Best Practice Series symposium held at the NYU Winthrop Research and Academic Center in Mineola on January 23, 2019. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The persistence of the coronavirus pandemic has left too many uncertainties to determine  if, when and how high school sports should return if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo decides to re-open public schools.

However, the NYSPHSAA is determined that high school athletes in every sport get a chance to compete whenever athletics is allowed to return.

“I've been in athletic administration for almost 20 years and the decision that had to be made three months ago to cancel the spring season was, by far, the most difficult decision that I had to be a part of as an executive director or an athletic administrator,” NYPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas said in a Zoom news conference Tuesday following a meeting of the association’s COVID-19 task force. “It is my intention that no student have to be told what the spring sport athletes were told at the beginning of March. So it's my commitment to the association and to all student athletes and their parents that we are doing everything we can, at this point in time, to ensure that every student gets the season that they want in the upcoming school year.

“What does the season look like? How long is the season? Are there championships? That's all yet to be determined but it's my goal, at the very minimum, to give students the opportunity to participate in their sport in the upcoming school year.”

The task force discussed a variety of scenarios — with in-person learning, remote learning or a hybrid — to restart high school sports. Proposals for how to do it in each scenario were debated, though Zayas did not wish to fuel speculation with specifics.

He did say “moving and modifying sports seasons, condensing seasons or just going with the schedule and starting sports on Aug. 24 as scheduled were among the proposals, but that little can be decided without guidance from Cuomo’s office and the State Department of Education.

Zayas and the task force want to have a game plan for whatever scenario they are handed. He estimated that it would take six weeks to have schools across the state prepared, which suggests he would need guidance on how to proceed in two to three weeks. He pointed out a lot can change over that period of time.

One proposal Zayas was asked about involved playing all sports in four compressed seasons, which would allow all indoor and outdoor sports to be played without over-taxing a school’s gyms and fields.

“There's been a couple instances, not just here in New York but throughout the country, where there's been some discussion on that topic,” Zayas said. He indicated it was not a topic in Tuesday’s meeting.

The probability of allowing spectators or holding state championship tournaments in all sports also is in doubt. In a recent survey of superintendents, principals, athletic directors and coaches that the NYSPHSAA conducted, respondents overwhelmingly felt that at least six section champions would be required to hold a state tournament. But such determinations are a long way off.

“Right now, championships is very low on our priority list,” he said. “First and foremost, we're focused on trying to keep students safe (and) trying to return them to some form of participation. State championships and fans attending games are very low on our priority list.”

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