The state says football is considered a high-risk sport, under...

The state says football is considered a high-risk sport, under pandemic protocols. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The New York state education department issued recommendations for high-risk fall sports on Thursday as part of its health and safety guidelines for re-opening schools in September. The guidelines state that "high-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or cancelled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are vaccinated."

Both Nassau and Suffolk are considered areas of high community spread, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Long Island's governing bodies for public school sports have not yet discussed requiring vaccinations for participation in high-risk fall sports, which the state identified as football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading.

"We’re getting thrown another curveball," Nassau's Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli said on Friday.

"This is guidance and recommendations — it’s not a mandate and it’s not a requirement," NYSPHSAA director of communications Chris Watson said. "It’s their idea of best practices. This is not the same as last year when things were being mandated and directed at us."

Some districts on Long Island are considering requiring that masks be worn inside school buildings, which could affect volleyball, an indoor sport.

Suffolk's Section XI executive director Tom Combs did not return calls for comment.

In the 2020-21 school year, Section VIII and Section XI, the governing bodies for public school sports in Nassau and Suffolk respectively, postponed sports during the fall semester before playing three truncated seasons in the first six months of 2021.

The decisions to not play high school sports in the last months of 2020 evoked outrage in some parts of Long Island and included rallies, demonstrations and lawsuits.

Pizzarelli said any decision to postpone high school sports this year would not be a popular one.

"The outrage a year ago will be nothing compared to how people would react this year," Pizzarelli said.

The first official practices for fall sports can begin on Monday, Aug. 23. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it does not see the guidelines altering the fall sports calendar.

"We encourage our member schools to utilize this document and consult with local health departments as they plan for the 2021-22 fall interscholastic athletic season to begin on Aug. 23," NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said in a social media post. "NYSPHSAA will continue working with state officials to ensure student-athletes have a safe and successful academic and athletic school year."

"As of right now we have every reason to believe things are going forward as planned," Watson said. "Remember that to prepare for the [academic] year, schools have already been working with their local departments of health all along."

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