NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas in 2019.

NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas in 2019. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Though scheduling models have been drawn up and facilities have been reserved, the start of winter sports at Long Island’s public high schools remains in limbo.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to release early this month guidance for how winter sports can be conducted safely across the state during the coronavirus pandemic. Until then, few determinations can be made. On Tuesday, New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas preached "patience" as the governor and state departments of education and health can complete them.

"This is not the type of situation where we're getting immediate answers – we have to understand where we fall as Interscholastic athletics and high school sports on the ‘hierarchy of need,’" Zayas said Tuesday on the ‘Return to Play Workshop’ Zoom conference held by Section VIII, the governing body for school sports in Nassau County. "There's a priority list at the State Department of Health. There's a priority list of the Governor's office. There's a priority list at the State Education Department. And as much as maybe we want high school sports to be at the top of that priority list, we also have to be realistic and understand that . . . hospitalizations, infection rates, vulnerable populations, educating the students in the classroom, getting those students to and from schools [and] potential distribution of vaccines – those are all things that our state officials are actively working on right now.

"We have to be patient and I know that's not a good feeling . . . but unfortunately, these are uncertain times, and it's just not possible at this point in time."

"I respect the seriousness of the virus and I lost my best friend to it when it took Tony Carter's life," Wantagh football and baseball coach Keith Sachs said, referring to the late assistant football coach. "I definitely get it and all the safety protocols, but when are we going to start to live our lives again?"

In Section VIII and its Suffolk counterpart, Section XI, decisions were made not to play sports in the fall and instead play three compressed seasons from January to June, beginning with winter sports. Practices are scheduled to commence Jan. 4 with varsity competition to start beginning Jan 12.

Zayas was asked what would happen if state guidance doesn’t allow for winter sports to start on schedule and replied "we have to be willing to pivot and be flexible and amend and revise and modify our decisions in the best interest of student-athletes."

"These high school kids are suffering and it's just so depressing," Sachs said. "It feels like we're waiting for the ax to fall again and the announcement that we don't have any high school sports. . . . [That] I see more affected areas than Long Island playing? That makes it even more frustrating."

Zayas did make clear there will be a couple of things in place for winter sports that were not present in the fall. Where sports physicals were waived in the fall, they will be required in the winter. And the mandatory minimum number of team practices before competition will return to six from 10 in the fall because athletes had been inactive in school sports since March.

The spring sport of boys lacrosse – scheduled to be played in May and June – is currently classified as ‘high risk" for transmission of Covid-19. It was suggested that some rules could be changed to reduce risk, including the elimination of face-offs. Zayas said there may come a time to consider such a move, but that the state membership would make such a determination.

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