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Long Island high schools await state decision on winter sports

Center Moriches takes on Malverne last March 10.

Center Moriches takes on Malverne last March 10. Credit: George A. Faella

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is expected to announce on Friday decisions on whether to delay the start of low- and moderate-risk winter sports and whether there will be winter sports state championship tournaments. The announcement will come at the conclusion of this week’s meetings of section executive directors. An update on the high-risk sports of basketball, wrestling, and competitive cheerleading is not expected.

How much impact a delay of the start of winter sports would have on student-athletes at Long Island public schools will depend on what a new start date is. Low- and moderate-risk sports began practices last week in other parts of the state and at Long Island Catholic schools, while practices at Long Island public schools begin Jan. 4.

That date was set back in August when the governing bodies for school sports in Nassau and Suffolk – Section VIII and Section XI, respectively – decided not to play any sports during the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic and instead planned to play three compressed seasons from January to June.

"The state is expected to announce its decision on whether or not we’ll have state championships for winter sports," Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli said. "And we’re also going to find out what the plan is moving forward for the winter season. We’ll be told if there’s pause for low risk sports or they’re still a go. There shouldn’t be any update on the high-risk sports unless the governor comes out with new guidance."

"We’re awaiting state guidance on high risk sports," Section XI executive director Tom Combs said. "We’re on schedule for low risk sports to begin in January. If the state imposes a pause, we’ll wait."

As they did in the fall, Long Island’s Catholic schools plan to go forward with low- and moderate-risk sports for the winter season and already have begun practices. They are sponsoring indoor track and field, swimming and bowling and remain hopeful there will be an opportunity to have basketball and wrestling seasons.

The CHSAA indoor track season is expected to be held on outdoor tracks because of the pandemic.

"We are scheduled and ready to go with low risk sports," St. John the Baptist athletic director Ralph Dalton said. "And we wait for the state to tell us if and when we can start the high-risk sports of wrestling and basketball."

The NYSPHSAA’s decision on whether to hold winter sport state championship tournaments matters only in Nassau. When Section XI came up with the format to get all three seasons into a six-month window, it opted out of sending its champions to state tournaments. Nassau could send its champions though it will be playing on a different schedule than the rest of the state.

Pizzarelli and Combs have not ruled out playing Long Island championship game, but that possibility seems remote right now as the counties’ schedules do not line up.

If the NYSPHSAA does delay the start of the winter sports season to later than Jan. 4, the Long Island sections would be looking at alterations to its plan while sections in other parts of the state would have to suspend practices.

However, playing a winter sport in some other part of the calendar will not happen in Suffolk.

"The one thing that will not happen is the moving of a sport from one season to another," Combs said. "That type of move would impact other sports and we’re not going down that path. If they don’t play in their respective season, then, unfortunately, that sport won’t play."

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