New York State Hesitates to Decide the Fate of High School Sports

By Nia Satterfield Brown ’21

Student-athletes playing lacrosse on Randall's Island (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

COVID-19 has forced sports teams to adapt to new circumstances. Teams have implemented significant changes to their athletic activities, from virtual practices on Zoom to canceled competitions. Months in, athletes are eager to get back to practice.


“COVID-19 has definitely made me lazier,” said Daniel Simmons (Dalton ’21).“Virtual practice is just not the same because we’d only have practice twice a week for 15 minutes. Usually we would have track practice for two hours, five days a week. I’ve tried working out on my own, but it’s not the same.”


The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) held its second meeting of the COVID-19 Task Force on June 30. The task force members discussed six possible scenarios regarding the reopening of schools. These scenarios include a full return to school, a hybrid education model, a virtual learning model, and a regional differences model. Plans regarding athletic participation encompass athletes fully returning, an adjustment of seasons, and condensing of all three seasons for the 2020-2021 school year.


The task force met again on July 16. Per their report, NYSPHSAA President Paul Harrica said, “As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start August 24th as originally scheduled, the priority will continue to be on the educational process and return to learning in the safest way possible.”


During this meeting, task force members voted to delay the start date for fall sports and cancel all regional and state championships. They also discussed tentative schedules for condensed sports seasons beginning in January 2021 and lasting ten weeks each season. Safety remains the primary concern as members examined the use of the ezSCRN application, a nationwide-approved virtual tool that allows schools to screen students––if screening is a part of their reopening plan.


During the meeting, Dr. Robert Zayas suggested his idea, “NYSPHSAA Pause.” The concept includes pausing athletics until September 21 in preparation for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement the first week of August and making a decision after that. The NYSPHSAA task force plans to continue its discussion at its next meeting, a date unknown at this time.


COVID-19 has also forced different sports to be separated by risk factor. Separated into three categories (high, moderate and low risk), these adjustments have added challenges to safely returning to athletics.


The National Federation of State High School Associations released a list around these classifications. Per this list, high risk sports include boys lacrosse, dance, football, and wrestling. Moderate risk sports include baseball, basketball, field hockey, girls lacrosse, softball, volleyball, tennis, and soccer. Low risk sports include cross country, track and field, individual swimming, golf, and weightlifting.


Logan Coster (Chapin ’22) has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Coster usually plays for a club basketball team in New York City, but right now, she is playing for a team in Connecticut where the impacts of COVID-19 have been less severe.


“Main basketball season is spring and summer for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), so the spring season was skipped, but summer tournaments are going on, just not in New York,” said Coster. “When we come to practice, we have to wipe down our balls, sanitize our hands, and then we can take off our masks and begin practice.”


COVID-19 has also changed eligibility for college recruitment and has taken away sports seasons. Ayana Santos (Fieldston ’21) has been playing volleyball since she could walk with her mother and older sisters having played their entire lives as well.


Santos said, “Volleyball has raised me in every way, taught me every lesson there is in life. Patience, respect, kindness, teamwork, accountability, commitment and hardship are just a few of the words that begin to describe how volleyball has taught me.” Santos, who plays both school and club volleyball, said that COVID-19 has taken away her recruiting season.


“Usually, when you’re on a 17’s or 18’s team, you have the best chance at getting seen by college coaches when you’re playing and therefore recruited. Though the process has been slow, I’ve been able to talk to some coaches and have them watch me play before COVID started,” said Santos. Additionally, she described the detrimental effects of having her senior season taken away from her.


Santos said, “All my life, I’ve seen the glories of being a senior athlete by all three of my older siblings. It’s what I’ve waited for my whole life, it’s one of the things that kept me playing, and it’s been my dream. Yet now, it’s gone, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. That is what hurts the most.” Her sentiments match those of athletes across New York and the country as the state of athletics still remains uncertain.


New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Athletic Association Executive Secretary John Pizzi had information to share about the league’s plans on a return to sports.


“In the short term, we have been forced to cancel the spring season, postpone 2020 preseason, cancel the fall 2020 NYSAIS Championships and potentially cancel the fall 2020 athletic season.” Pizzi said. One of the major concerns is if masks will be required during practice in order to minimize the spread.


“This is a tricky question. There are several different recommendations around masks, depending on which organization you follow...Six feet apart or less requires a mask. Excessive breathing activities require 12 feet of distance with the mask being optional.” Pizzi also believes that students should wear masks, and if the activity is too rigorous, coaches should rethink the activity. Though the fate of high school sports is in question, Pizzi, a self-proclaimed optimist, believes that sports will return. “Sports will be back; I am an optimist. It may take a few months, a year or more. But, athletics will be back. And I do believe that the athletic directors at schools will continue to be creative to provide a meaningful experience for all students, in our current environment.”

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