Credit: Dawn McCormick

New York’s public high school championship events will not relocate because of vaccination requirements, New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas said Tuesday.

Long Island high schools do not require athletes to be vaccinated to play in games or compete in events, so the state championships serve as the first time an athlete faces the possibility of not being able to play if they are not vaccinated.

The state cheerleading team championship at Rochester Institute of Technology on March 5 requires participants to show proof of vaccination and has no testing component for those who are not vaccinated. The state wrestling championships at the MVP Arena in Albany and the state basketball tournaments in Glens Falls and Troy also require proof of vaccination, but those tournaments also will have a testing component for any unvaccinated participants, in accordance with the New York State Department of Health large-scale gathering mandate.

"Our executive committee, representing all 786 member schools, met last week and we had lengthy discussions about championship events and there was no support about changing venues or modifying tournament formats because of venue COVID protocols," Zayas said. "We anticipated that there were going to be challenges that would impact our championship events. That’s why we released the protocols for our schedules on Sept. 9. It explained all the protocols at whatever venue we were scheduled to be at, regardless of the restrictions that were in place."

Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, Suffolk’s governing body of scholastic sports, offered two ways to address the vaccination issue.

"We asked that the state consider changing the venue and limit the number of spectators or add a testing component at the RIT site," Combs said. "Both of our proposals were denied by the executive board of NYSPHSAA."

The safety protocols at RIT mandate full vaccinations for athletes, coaches, officials and spectators. There is no limit on spectators in the facility.

"We have asked about the testing component," Zayas said. "And it’s not in accordance with the safety protocols that are in place there."

According to Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director for Section VIII, which oversees all Nassau schools, the change of venue for cheerleading was not going to happen.

"Our representatives did not support any change," he said. "It wouldn’t be fair to the tennis players, who were forced to get vaccinated or not participate in the state tournament in the fall season. They dealt with it accordingly. You can’t change the rules and the safety protocols in midstream. Everyone knew in September they needed to be vaccinated for the cheerleading championship to participate. This isn’t new. They can get vaccinated and participate. And if they don’t get vaccinated, they’re out — it’s a choice. Those are the rules at this particular venue."

Zayas said these championship venues are scheduled through a bid process. RIT submitted the bid to host the cheerleading championships on Nov. 20, 2020, and the bid was approved by the state’s executive committee in 2021. The changing of a venue at a later date would have an impact on the site and costs thousands of dollars.

"There are 390 hotel rooms guaranteed and under contract in Rochester for this event," he said. "There is a $30,000 cancellation fee. And that doesn’t even play a role in any of this. There’s a tremendous amount of logistics that goes into planning these events. We have not adjusted any of our events this year at the state level."

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman held a news conference on Tuesday at the Mitchel Field Athletic Complex to offer the state an opportunity to use the facilities in Nassau free of charge to hold the cheerleading championship.

"We are willing to donate the Mitchel Field Athletic Complex for the state competition," he said. "Nassau County is open to attracting business and exciting events. We’re putting this offer out there right now."

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