The announcement by the New York State High Schools Athletic Association last week that fall sports would be delayed from their original Aug. 24 start-up date until Sept. 21 was met with more pessimism than optimism across Long Island.
Although folks were pleased with a start date, most kept themselves in check, with an "I’ll believe it, when I see it." Questions remain about an official reopening of New York schools, and a decision on that will have a direct impact on sports.
A major fear for coaches and athletes is the very real possibility of moving all sports seasons away from the fall because of COVID-19.
The NYSHSAA’s plan for that scenario is to have three seasons of 10 weeks each, with the seasons overlapping, beginning Jan. 4, 2021. Athletes are concerned that an overlap would force them to choose between sports, and two-sport coaches wonder how they can manage sports that would overlap.
“Everyone is just praying that we have a fall season and don’t have to think about the condensed schedule that was proposed,” said Keith Sachs, who coaches football and baseball at Wantagh. Those two sports are planned between Seasons II and III in the condensed proposal. “There are concerns about trying to jam three seasons into five-plus months. [Baseball and football] would overlap by four weeks – so how could I possibly do that?”
In the three-season format, there would be a crossover of two weeks between Seasons I and II and a four-week overlap between Seasons II and III. According to Robert Zayas, the executive director for NYSPHSAA, athletes would be allowed to participate in two sports as dictated by individual school districts.
“How does a football player in Season II get ready for baseball or lacrosse in Season III, when they overlap by four weeks?” Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci said. “And we need a mandatory 10 practices for baseball. And how about conditioning? You can’t just go out and pitch without a proper preseason.”
Zayas said all dates are tentative, and Season III, which would end June 12, could be extended to June 24, making the Season II-III overlap only two weeks.
But all scheduling would depend on the setup for the State Regents testing – if they have the testing.
There is no easy solution to ensure the safety and health of all persons involved. The scenarios laid out by NYSPHSAA are tentative and Zayas has reiterated that sports would start Sept. 21 as the first of a few possibilities set forth by the New York State Task Force.
“It should be education first, and get acclimated in school to the new protocols and government requirements,” Sachs said. “And then we can have sports. I totally agree with the philosophy.”
Petrucci said: “Thirty years ago, the condensed season proposal would’ve been a problem with all the three-sport athletes. But the majority of athletes now specialize in one sport. The three-sport athlete is a dying breed as most focus on one sport for that scholarship opportunity. If athletes have to choose one sport over another, it will cause some schools to drop teams. Schools with smaller enrollments and limited athletes will be hurt. The overlap is a major concern amongst coaches.”
Lindenhurst senior linebacker Jack Winey, a Newsday All-Long Island selection, and a highly regarded Hansen candidate as Suffolk’s top player, just wants to get back on the field.
“As long as my team can play some football, that’s all I really care about,” Winey said. “I don’t care if it’s in the fall, I don’t care if it’s in the spring. It’s disappointing that it’s not going to be as normal as it was, but I’m just glad that we’re going to be able to get on the field. That’s really all that matters.”
Winey is also a skilled lacrosse player and should there be an overlap in seasons, he’d make a choice.
“I love lacrosse, but football is my main sport,” he said. “So that’s what I’d be choosing if it came down to that.”
Senior Sarah Killcommons, who plays field hockey and lacrosse for Garden City, also wants to play her final season.
“It’s definitely disappointing to see the season get pushed back, but as long as we’re having a season, it’s honestly a positive with everything going on,” she said.
In the condensed schedule, field hockey moves into Season II and with lacrosse in Season III, Killcommons would have to choose between sports.
“It’s kind of wait and see, but we’ll make it work and make the situation the best we can,” she said.
Cold Spring Harbor senior Will Spehr plays football and lacrosse and the overlap has him concerned.
"I’m hoping the state figures things out, to work out that overlap because pretty much most of the kids who play football on my team also play lacrosse,” Spehr said. “That’ll be extremely difficult with that month overlap and I’m not really sure what’ll happen … If that three-season thing happens, I’m not going to play a team sport until March, which is crazy.”
With Laura Amato
NYSPHSAA’s proposed plan for sports to resume in January 2021 if needed, with tentative dates:
Dates: Jan. 4-Mar. 13 (week 27-36).
Sports: Basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track & field, skiing, boys swimming. Wrestling and competitive cheer are considered high risk in nature and may have to be moved to Season II or Season III.
Dates: Mar. 1-May 8 (week 35-44).
Sports: Football, cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls swimming, volleyball, Unified bowling.
Dates: Apr. 5-Jun. 12 (week 40-49).
Sports: Baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track & field, Unified basketball.