Long Island’s high school athletes got a much-needed dose of hope and optimism on Monday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo opened the door for interscholastic sports to return from its pandemic-forced hiatus next month.
“The second that our team found out, everyone was texting and super-excited that we actually have a set date and time to practice,” said Sarah Killcommons, a senior on Garden City’s field hockey team. “We’re all getting ready for the season. We’re all thankful for it and we’re happy that we do have opportunities like this, that we can use and kind of have a baseline again. [It’s] a return to normalcy.”
At his morning news conference, Cuomo said, “The guidance we’ve come up with is this: What’s called lower-risk sports — tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, swimming — in all regions of the state can practice and play starting Sept. 21” as long as Department of Health protocols are followed and school districts deem it safe.
Sports considered higher risk — such as football and volleyball — can begin training on that date as well.
Though only a small first step toward a fall season, the news was largely met across Long Island with happiness and even some surprise by coaches and athletic directors.
“It’s an announcement everyone has been looking forward to,” Islip girls soccer coach Mike Reilly said. “The past couple of months, every comment or statement made has been focused on the negative and not the positive. So any positivity is good news.”
“This is the best-case scenario,” Carle Place field hockey coach Briana Rubenstein said. “It’s just any little bit to give these girls some sort of normalcy again. I think that’s super-important.”
NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas will meet with section directors on Tuesday morning and the COVID task force in the afternoon to begin the building process toward a season that will include a framework for the number of games and officiating, health protocols and the cleaning of equipment and locker room use.
“I’m just glad we got the OK to do something,” Whitman athletic director Jim Wright said. “That starts the discussion in a positive way. It just needs some semantic and language clarifications for us.”
“Very pleasantly surprised,” East Meadow cross country coach Michael Ringhauser said. “Training as individuals, it’s been hard to find motivation. But hopefully, finally having an answer of when they can start, maybe it puts some kids back to being inspired.”
There was some ambiguity in Cuomo’s guidance. He mentioned only five sports, but the state has said it’s safe to play golf, among other things. It allows teams to practice but it’s open-ended on when they get to play.
“There is going to be a lot of clarification the next three days coming from the NYSPHSAA on exactly what sports can play and what the protocols are, but overall, I think we’re happy with the decision,” Connetquot athletic director Pete Melore said. “There were a lot of individuals who were advocating for high school sports to begin . . . and for understanding the value of high school sports.”
One big question lies with the many Long Island school districts: Will they all choose to participate and will they deem interscholastic athletics safe?
“There is a risk-reward here, but high school sports are an optional activity,” Melore said. “People can make their own decisions about whether their children can play or not.”