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‘Completely blindsided’

Local ADs surprised by NYSPHSAA decision

OBSERVER File Photo Silver Creek football coach and athletic director Sean Helmer said he was “completely blindsided” when the NYSPHSAA announced Wednesday that the seasons for high-risk fall sports were moving to the spring.

On Wednesday evening, Dr. Robert Zayas said that after speaking with nearly 500 athletic directors across the state it became clear that administering high-risk fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic “presents a significant challenge for our member schools.”

But Section VI athletic directors who took part in a meeting with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director just two days earlier largely agreed that they had no idea a decision was coming Wednesday to postpone football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading until March 1.

“I think I probably share the thoughts of most of our athletic directors. I was completely blindsided,” Silver Creek athletic director Sean Helmer said Thursday afternoon. “In that meeting (Dr. Zayas) said that he would prefer to wait as long as possible and see how the fall went rather than moving it. … He’s a bright guy. Who knows what happened between that meeting and (Wednesday).”

“On Monday, there was no talk about high-risk (sports) moving to the spring,” Jamestown athletic director Ben Drake said. “We all left that thinking everything was going to start Sept. 21.”

The original intent of the early week Zoom meetings with individual section athletic directors was to clarify Return to Interscholastic Sports guidance NYSPHSAA released last Friday evening.

OBSERVER File Photo Fall Sports II will begin March 1 and can run as late as May 1.

“To be honest, I think we all had a lot of questions about the guidance we received,” Southwestern athletic director Kevin Salisbury said.

“I personally felt I got a lot of answers other than football and volleyball,” Salisbury added. ” … I felt pretty good moving forward with all the other sports.”

It is possible that downstate athletic directors — in Sections VIII and XI where they have already postponed fall sports — swayed the executive director and board between Monday and Wednesday’s announcement.

“Whether it’s athletic directors, superintendents or boards of education, there is a lot of financial stress everywhere, but certainly down by (New York City) maybe more,” Helmer said. “If you polled 700 districts, it would not be an overwhelming majority (to postpone).”

“We’re a big state … so I know just from getting reports at the state level, we send representatives and don’t always vote the same way and agree with downstate,” Drake said. “Maybe there was a much different feeling from ADs there.”

Wednesday’s decision handed down by the NYSPHSAA means the new Fall Sports II season will begin March 1 and run as late as May 1 depending on an individual section’s discretion.

“His take was this is another bump in the road,” Salisbury said about a conversation he had with Trojans football coach Jake Burkholder after the announcement. “The hope is that we are going to be able to play. It’s not our normal time to play, but we are still going to have some type of football come March.”

Spring sports will now start April 19 and have a possibility of running through June 30 depending on the state’s academic calendar.

“I read somewhere that they would extend spring late into June which would be great for those kids,” Helmer said. “Those teams would have great weather. For baseball and softball you can play a lot of games in two months.”

“I’m hoping they’ll take a look at the end date for our spring season and extend that into June or mid-June,” Salisbury added. “Then what those kids lose out on the front end, they’ll gain on the back end so they’ll have a good chunk of their regular season, if not all of it.”

Student-athletes will not have to choose between overlapping sports, instead they are able to play during all four seasons.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those football kids decide to play a sport that they maybe have not played before, some of those girls volleyball players will choose to play soccer or run cross country,” Drake said. “That may open up some opportunities for some other sports. Only time will tell with that.”

There may be an overlap at the end of winter sports into the new Fall Sports II season or at the end of Fall Sports II into spring sports.

“It’s unfortunate that there is going to be the overlap. We see it in certain districts depending on your fall or winter seasons if they extend to regional and state play,” Salisbury said. ” … It will be a crazy, hectic two weeks for those kids.”

While the news is no doubt disappointing for local football and volleyball players there was no guarantee from the state Department of Health that high-risk sports would even be able to play games this fall.

“It’s been a concern for all of us: How do you practice for four to five weeks and promise kids maybe we’ll play?” Helmer asked. “You are just pretending. … But that was the plan and it all of a sudden changed rapidly.”

A majority of states across the country are playing high school football this fall, but New York has yet to give the OK despite impressive COVID-19 data.

“I was very surprised, but not shocked. … Nothing is a given right now,” Drake said. “You look across the country and we are playing football with games every weekend on ESPN in states with higher COVID-19 rates. We have been less than 1% statewide for 33 straight days. Kids see that, people are talking about it on social media and coaches are pretty outspoken.”

So while football and volleyball will not enjoy their official seasons until March, it looks like starting Sept. 21 they can begin to have unofficial noncontact workouts in individual or group settings while maintaining social distance.

“It’s really weird right now. Being in school is totally different because everybody is in a different type of model,” Helmer said. “Normally we would have a meeting right after school but right now it’s a lot of parents texting. We’ve told the kids we’re waiting on guidance from the state to find out if we’re going to be able to do anything with the kids.

“If we’re able to work with them, we’ll work with them all fall under whatever guidelines they give us,” Helmer added. “If not, I’ll encourage them to go play another sport this fall.”

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