As athletic director and varsity football coach at Dunkirk High School, Mike Sarratori has grown accustomed to change in the midst of the coronavirus.
Thursday was the most recent example.
The news came in the form of an announcement from the officers of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, who voted to delay the official start date for fall 2020 sports seasons, cancel the regional and state championships and prepare to implement a condensed season schedule in January 2021, if high school sports remain prohibited throughout the remainder of the calendar year due to the pandemic.
The decision, which delays the fall sports date until Monday, Sept. 21, came at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force when it convened as a working group for the third time yesterday.
“I think I expected it,” Sarratori said of the delay. “With so many variables that can’t be answered yet, I think it’s definitely a smart idea. Hopefully, within that time frame, things can show some type of improvement.”
Paul Harrica, NYSPHSAA president, said it was “unrealistic” to believe athletic seasons can start on Aug. 24 as originally scheduled, and the “priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”
The NYSPHSAA officers’ decision also includes:
¯ Waiving the seven-day practice rule.
¯ Maintaining current practice requirements.
¯ Encouraging geographic scheduling for games and contests.
¯ Offering schools the option, if permitted by state officials, to conduct offseason conditioning workouts.
“We recognize this is challenging for everyone, but the decisions made at the state level are based upon data and statewide infection rates all in an effort to stop the spread of COVID and reopen responsibly,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director. “At this time, Department of Health guidance presented on July 13 prohibits interscholastic athletics across the state. The association will continue to follow state guidance and will work collectively with state officials to ensure high school athletics will start up responsibly in the future. As an association, we must be willing to be flexible and continue to explore all options with students safety as our main focus.”
“If the fall sports seasons are interrupted by the COVID-19 crisis — for example, state official guidance, school closings, cancellation of high-risk sports — then a condensed seasons plan will be implemented, the release said.
The condensed season plan would entail the following with the stipulated dates being tentative:
¯ SEASON I (WINTER SPORTS)
Dates: Jan. 4-March 13 (10 weeks).
Sports: basketball (boys and girls); bowling (boys and girls); gymnastics; ice hockey (boys and girls), indoor track & field (boys and girls); skiing (boys and girls); and swimming (boys). Because of their high-risk nature, wrestling and competitive cheer may have to be moved to Season II or Season III.
¯ SEASON II (FALL SPORTS)
Dates: March 1-May 8 (10 weeks)
Sports: football, cross country (boys and girls), field hockey, soccer (boys and girls), swimming (girls), volleyball (boys and girls), unified bowling.
Weather will have an impact upon outdoor sports in some parts of the state in March and, potentially, April. Girls tennis moved to Season III.
¯ SEASON III (SPRING SPORTS)
Dates: April 5-June 12 (10 weeks)
Sports: baseball, softball, golf (boys and girls); lacrosse (boys and girls); tennis (boys and girls); outdoor track & field (boys and girls; and unified basketball.
“The condensed season isn’t a great scenario for us small schools,” said Greg Lauer, Fredonia athletic director. “We rely on some of our kids playing multiple sports and, with the overlap, that would hurt some sports. Hopefully, that’s something that can be adjusted to spread the season out a bit and maybe extend into the summer.”
Ben Drake, Jamestown High School athletic director, said the announcement that could include a condensed season schedule beginning in January left him “disappointed, but it was not unexpected.”
“I think we got that feeling the last couple weeks that having a fall sports season, while trying to be optimistic, there was a decent chance that we might not have (one),” he said.
Drake, who also coaches Jamestown’s varsity boys basketball team, said the uncertainty of whether sports can be played makes it difficult to put together a schedule as well.
“Do you do your fall schedule with plans on practice starting Sept. 21 and games starting in early October?” he said. “It’s quite a process with all the different sports coming up with all those dates. Then to have the carpet pulled out from under you again in another month and having to do it again with games in the spring? There are so many factors that go into this. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is in a tough spot because they’re opening under the direction they’re getting from the Governor’s Office.”
Southwestern Central School Superintendent Maureen Donahue said the situation is “breaking my heart where we’re at with this.”
During the summer months, she said she likes to walk the Hunt Road campus in West Ellicott because that’s where she typically has a chance to greet student-athletes as they condition for their fall seasons.
Unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to do that because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That connection for kids is so vital to everyone,” she said. “I’ll just be glad when we can get back to normal.”