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‘For the kids’

ADs ‘elated’ to hopefully have all sports back

OBSERVER File Photo Fredonia’s Nick Whitfield and other local basketball players will be able to start practicing Monday, Feb. 1 as long as local Health Departments give their approval in the coming days.

Greg Lauer had never seen so many kids come out for swimming and bowling.

Watching high school sports in other states online, Ben Drake couldn’t help to think about what New York state high school student-athletes were missing out on.

Ideally, things will be closer to normal back home soon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Friday afternoon announced that high-risk sports could begin competition Monday, Feb. 1 as long as local Health Departments approve.

“We had a great discussion with our 11 section executive directors … once we received the authorization,” Dr. Robert Zayas, New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director, said Friday evening. “I can guarantee that all sections are working to make sure that they are going to be able to provide a beneficial season for all student-athletes in those school districts that are able to go ahead and provide these opportunities for these student-athletes.”

OBSERVER File Photo Pending local Health Department approval, local basketball players and wrestlers will return to action Monday, Feb. 1.

It was music to the ears of local athletic directors.

“I’m elated. I’m really happy for the kids,” Drake, the Jamestown High School athletic director, said hours after the announcement Friday. “So many kids have been affected by this in ways that are hard to quantify. So many of these kids have been playing these sports since they were little … and for a lot of them high school is the culmination.”

Low- and moderate-risk sports — bowling, boys swimming and skiing locally — returned to practice last Monday and were able to begin matches this week as long as student-athletes took part in the required six practices.

“We just had a bunch of kids want to come out and do something,” Lauer, Fredonia’s athletic director, said about the increase in numbers for swimming and bowling. “I’m excited for the kids to have the opportunity to do something going forward.”

On Feb. 1, basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and others can return to practice.

Basketball players will have to take part in six practices to play in games while wrestlers will have to practice 10 times before competing.

“(This) week is certainly going to be a busy week for everybody,” Drake said. “I think everybody is so happy we are going to make this happen. We’re willing to do whatever it takes — even if it is an abbreviated season.”

Earlier this year, NYSPHSAA planned for this very scenario — that the winter season would not start on time — and created new dates for the remainder of the school year.

The Winter season can now last until Saturday, March 13, while a new Fall II season will run Monday, March 1 through Saturday, May 8.

“The schedule is difficult,” Lauer said. “We are still slated to start football March 1. Here we are starting basketball Feb. 1. Wrestling is tight, the section or state is going to have to do something with our planned dates.”

The Spring season, which was originally scheduled to begin Monday, March 15, will now begin statewide Monday, April 19 and run as late as Saturday, June 12.

“Right now we are planning on having Spring Championships, but I have continued to stress to our membership that championships are not the priority nor are they the focus,” Zayas said. “The focus for our association at this point and time is maximum student participation. We have close to 600,000 student-athletes that participate in interscholastic athletics within our association. That’s our focus and that’s our priority. If we get the opportunity to have a spring championship, we’ll certainly take advantage of it. That is not something that we are spending a lot of time looking at right now.”

All of the end dates for each season are being left up to individual sections.

The condensed seasons could create problems — especially at smaller schools.

Basketball and wrestling will now overlap with football season for boys and volleyball season for girls. Volleyball and football would then overlap with baseball, softball, track and field, and golf.

“There’s definitely going to be some challenges with the overlap,” Drake said. “We’re a larger school, but it’s something that we’re going to have to work out to make sure kids don’t miss either sport.”

“These are the three main sports — basketball, football and baseball/softball — packed in here in about four months that a lot of kids play,” Lauer said. “It’s going to be tight all the way through, but by eliminating state championships hopefully we can expand and do a sectionals thing to give kids the chance to concentrate on each sport.”

One way schools could fit more games into the condensed schedules would be if teams could compete every day of the week. Normally, schools are only able to compete or practice for six consecutive days.

“I will be meeting with the officers of the association,” Zayas said Friday evening, ” … to seek approval for the seven consecutive day rule to be waived.”

That waiver has since passed for Winter and Fall II and Spring.

Also some coaches will have overlapping seasons, for instance Panama volleyball coach Tammy Hosier is also the Panthers’ softball coach and Randolph football coach Brent Brown is also the Cardinals’ baseball coach.

Trying to play full boys and girls basketball schedules over five weeks may also create shortages of referees.

“We received authorization to provide an additional approximately 200,000 student-athletes the opportunity to participate in their sport and that’s exciting news,” Zayas said. “We’re going to have condensed seasons and we’re going to have come challenges and obstacles to overcome. But more than anything else, I’m excited for those student-athletes … that were given news … that they’ve been waiting on that’s going to give them an opportunity to represent their school, to represent their community and to wear their jersey to participate in their sport with their friends under the direct supervision of their school board-approved coach.”

But for now, obstacles are welcome problems to have if the alternative is not playing at all.

“I have an opportunity to communicate with a lot of student-athletes on social media. A lot of the interactions start negative and they turn positive,” said Chris Watson, NYSPHSAA communications director. “The direct messages that we oversee here are a lot of kids with hearts and a lot of kids with thumbs-up emojis, and a lot of kids that are pretty excited. Those are the same kids that were communicating with this office that were pretty down for a number of weeks and months. I don’t want to say they lost hope, but it was certainly fading. Those kids are certainly feeling better about things.”

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