With COVID-19 resurgence, state suggests limits on contact sports
Just when it looked like it might be safe to go back in the water, another COVID-19 monster is rearing its ugly head.
One week ahead of the official opening of practice for most fall sports, the New York State Education Department recommended that high-contact sports such as football be canceled in areas with high transmission of the virus unless all players and coaches are vaccinated.
While not a mandate, the announcement was not well-received by coaches and athletes in the Highlands.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Beacon football coach Jim Phelan. “To make a statement like that a week before the start of the season — I’d hate to have to tell the players the rug got pulled out from under them again.”
In the spring of 2020, the baseball, lacrosse and softball seasons were canceled because of the pandemic shutdown. In the fall, sports such as football and volleyball were delayed until March 2021. Modified sectional playoffs were held, but not statewide competitions, although state tournaments are scheduled to return in 2021-22.
Because the state is only “suggesting” canceling games in high-transmission areas, some coaches called the announcement a distraction. Unless there is a mandate by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association or officials in Section 1 (which includes Haldane) or Section 9 (Beacon), the feeling is that schools will go ahead, with precautions.
With COVID-19 numbers on the rise around the region, especially among those who are not vaccinated, superintendents and school boards were having discussions this week, but fall sports remain on track for a Monday (Aug. 23) start.
“We’re still talking about protocols for the season, but not about delaying it,” said John Giametta, the Beacon athletic director. The state recommendation “is not something we want to go with. But we also know the NYSPHSAA or the section could postpone or cancel games at any time.”
At Haldane, athletic director Dan Cowan said that, “as of now, we’re going forward with all fall sports as though it’s a typical year. All of our athletes and coaches will be in masks for outdoor practices and events, and indoors the same thing.
“There are some concerns,” said Cowan, who joined Haldane this year from Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park. “But once we’ve all read the guidelines, we can work together and I believe we can still offer sports.
“What we went through last fall was a tremendous challenge,” he added. “Now I think people will be more confident and understand that the restrictions are out of an abundance of caution. Students and families want to feel safe. And, hopefully, the restrictions will ease up as the year goes on.”
Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante said this week in a note to parents that athletes in high-contact sports may be required to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. He said on Thursday (Aug. 19) that he and the district’s physician were still working out the details.
In Beacon, Giametta noted that “no one wants to go backward. We’re going full steam forward and trying to get back to normal. That’s important. Sports can change lives, and people value those experiences. It doesn’t matter what we have to do, we have to get it done for the kids.”
Ryan McConville, who coaches varsity football at Haldane, said last week’s announcement had people wondering what might come next.
“People got nervous hearing that” from the Education Department, he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls, people wanting to know what’s going on.”
McConville and other coaches were dreading the possibility of having to tell their players the season is not happening or will be postponed. “I had a lump in my throat,” he said. “I don’t know how we’d tell them again. There would be a lot of pushback from the community. We feel we can play, play safely and follow the rules and mandates.
“We have good procedures in place; we’re much better prepared,” he added. “We’ve been keeping the kids apart and revising plans and protocols.”
In Beacon, Phelan said last spring’s “Fall 2” football season was a success but not something he’d like to see repeated. “We wanted to take a step forward, but we took a step back” as a team, he said. “Maybe I put too much on the guys in too short a time, with us not being together, not planning. That impacted how much we practiced. It was a difficult adjustment.
“It was a big developmental year, and we didn’t get to see them,” he added. “Now we’re more prepared, guys have been doing their thing over the summer, and everything has been going well. We don’t want to have to jam it into spring again.”
Beacon, which will move this year from Section 1 to Section 9, is scheduled to open its season on Sept. 10, hosting Kingston. Other fall teams include boys’ and girls’ soccer, cross-country, volleyball, girls’ swimming and cheerleading.
Haldane is scheduled to open Sept. 11, hosting Rye Neck. The high school also has boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, girls’ tennis and cross-country teams.
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