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Winter sports with low and moderate risk on track to begin season, but rising COVID-19 cases cloud certainty for others

East Rockaway vs. Southold on March 10, 2020.

East Rockaway vs. Southold on March 10, 2020. Credit: George A. Faella

Public high schools across Long Island remain on track to compete in the low- and moderate-risk sports of bowling, gymnastics, indoor track and field, skiing and swimming and diving when the winter sports season begins.

However, student-athletes across the rest of New York State were forced to hold their collective breath on Monday after a one official inadvertently suggested there might be no winter sports season. During Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s telephonic news conference on Monday, state budget director Robert Mujica said ""we're not inclined to open up the winter sports right now" given rising COVID-19 infection rates across the state.

It’s possible Mujica was simply referring to high-risk winter sports like basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and competitive cheerleading. No high-risk sports have been approved for play by Cuomo’s office.

Still, it was enough to cause a stir in parts of the state – not Long Island – where winter sports practices are scheduled to start on Nov. 30.

New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas quieted fears by releasing a statement that read:

"After consultation with state officials today, NYSPHSAA has confirmed low and moderate risk winter sports [bowling, gymnastics, indoor track & field, skiing and swimming & diving] are permitted to be played. NYSPHSAA has established November 30th as the winter sports start date. At this time, authorization has not been provided for high risk sports to begin play. The high-risk sports start date continues to be examined and will be revised if needed but is contingent upon authorization from state officials."

At no point did the situation appear exigent for Long Island’s student-athletes. When the governing bodies for school sports in Nassau and Suffolk – Section VIII and Section XI – both decided against playing sports in the fall, they drafted a plan to play three compressed seasons from January to June. Each season would run approximately nine weeks. The first day for winter sports practices in both counties is not until Jan. 4

"We are optimistic we will start January 4," Section XI executive director Tom Combs said. "We are fully prepared to move forward in the new year."

"While the rest of the state had a target date of Nov 30 to start," Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli said, "we set our sights on Jan 4 to begin our winter season. Unless we get further guidance from Robert Zayas or the Governor’s office: We are a ‘go.’ "

Zayas said that state officials are currently working on considerations for playing those low- and moderate-risk sports and how they can be conducted safely during the pandemic. They are expected later this month.

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