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Nassau calls emergency meeting to discuss high school sports

Jericho schools Superintendent Hank Grishman, seen in Jericho

Jericho schools Superintendent Hank Grishman, seen in Jericho on April 20. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hank Grishman, the superintendent of Jericho schools, said Nassau County has called an emergency superintendents meeting for Wednesday morning to discuss the fate of fall high school sports. Grishman said postponing the season until January could be the county's best option.

“There are a few outcomes that we could go with," Grishman said Tuesday night. "We could kick the can down the road and wait to see if and how the numbers change when students return to school. We could follow the governor’s guidance and start [low-risk sports] on Sept. 21. Or we could go to a January-to-June option with three seasons.

“My sense is we might not start sports until January, but it could go any way.”

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced guidelines permitting lower-risk sports such as tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey and swimming to begin practice and play on Sept. 21.

Suffolk County will hold a meeting of its executive board on Wednesday, according to Tom Combs, who heads Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk.

“[Nassau] can do what they have to do," Combs said. "We’ll do what we have to do. ... I don’t know if there will be a final decision [Wednesday], but it will be up to them.”

Earlier in the day, Combs said he was still "cautiously optimistic" that a fall season was possible.

“We want to have a fall season followed by winter and spring seasons," Combs said. "We want the kids to have the opportunity to play, with health as our top concern.”

High school sports officials from across the state met on Tuesday to try to formulate a plan for games to return. The biggest challenges, officials said, would be instituting health and safety protocols, enforcement of those protocols and the increased cost to schools. Transportation, cleaning and disinfecting equipment and fields will add costs, officials said.

Combs said transportation is “potentially one of the biggest obstacles.” Some schools will employ hybrid learning – in-person and remote – while others may be entirely in-person or entirely remote. “If you’re remote today, how are you getting to school and then from school to home?” he said. “For some it will be easy, for others very hard. An added cost in the time of cutbacks is always an issue.”

There also are questions about logistics. The Department of Health and Human Services does not allow school teams to use locker rooms. “There were sections that spoke about wanting to hold off on any sports until 2021 with the idea that waiting would be safer,” said Pat Pizzarelli, who heads Section VIII, the governing body for high school sports in Nassau County. “We are given the autonomy to do that, but school districts and their superintendents make those calls.” 

And Pizzarelli said that, after talking with sports officials in Nassau, there could be schools that have trouble fielding teams.

“When we shut it down [in March] the whole thing was ‘an abundance of caution,’ but what really has changed?” he said. “It’s the same virus. There’s still no effective medication or vaccine. And now people are wondering about the disease and the long-term effects of getting it.”

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