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Island Trees' appeal to overturn Section VIII decision sent back to Athletic Council

Michael Rich along with parents, other athletes, and

Michael Rich along with parents, other athletes, and local officials rally for high school sports to be started in Nassau County on Aug. 28 in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp

An appeal to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association by the Island Trees school district that sought to overturn Section VIII’s decision not to play high school sports in the fall has been sent back to Nassau County's Athletic Council.

The ruling by the three-person NYSPHSAA Appeal Panel, handed down late Monday, says the Island Trees Union Free School District did not "exhaust all avenues of appeal within the section." An appeal to the Section VIII Athletic Council is required before an appeal can be made to the state body.

Two days after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued his Aug. 24 guidance permitting low-risk sports to begin practice and play on Sept. 21, Section VIII — the governing body for school sports in Nassau County — announced it would delay the start of the fall season because of health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic; its Athletic Council affirmed the move Sept. 17 by a 12-2 vote with two abstentions.

Island Trees School Board President Mike Rich Jr. called the outcome "disappointing" and said Tuesday that the school district would not pursue another appeal at this time.

"We’re running out of time to get things in order and to have a season," he said. "This should never have happened in the first place. When the governor said fall sports could be played, he said it would be up to the school districts and their superintendents. That didn’t happen in Section VIII. The school districts weren’t given a chance to [opt-in] or [opt-out]."

The NYSPHSAA Appeal Panel — former executive director Paul Harrica, Kathy Hoyt of Section V and Greg Ransom of Section IX — heard from both sides at a virtual hearing on Friday.

Island Trees contends that Section VIII violated its own constitution, which states that "on issues that have major implications for member schools" determinations come from voting by all member school districts. No such procedure took place and the district further alleges the absence of sports harms the well-being of students and puts them at a competitive disadvantage for scholarships.

Section VIII contends that the Island Trees school district didn’t seek remedies within the section before appealing to the NYSPHSAA.

The Massapequa school district filed no appeal to the section or the state and immediately went for a judicial remedy with a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Section VIII decision. That lawsuit was dismissed for similar reasons — not seeking appellate remedies first — but also said that, even if that were not the case, the section decision was "supported by substantial evidence."

"They should have asked the districts who wanted to play — some might have and others might not," Rich said. "Just shutting it down was monumental. You have to take a first step somewhere.

"Some things were going to be hard about having sports and would require a lot of work," he added. "So find some solutions and go forward. Handle the problems as they come. We’ve seen it done in professional sports."

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