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State OKs high-risk sports

Basketball, wrestling, others can begin Feb. 1 with county approval

OBSERVER File Photo Local wrestlers, including Fredonia’s David Ball, and basketball players can begin practices Monday, Feb. 1 with county Health Department approval.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has finally budged on high-risk sports in New York state.

Beginning Feb. 1, basketball, wrestling, football, ice hockey and other sports deemed high risk in the state will be allowed to resume competition as long as county Health Departments allow it.

“We are extremely thankful to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health for providing authorization for all sports to begin,” Dr. Robert Zayas, New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director, said in a news release. “I am thrilled our association’s member schools will be able to provide over two hundred thousand students with valuable and beneficial participation experiences. Today is certainly a great day for the students of New York state.”

In its announcement, the governor’s office went on to say that local health authorities “should consider the following factors in authorizing or continuing to prohibit higher risk sports and recreational activities as, in many areas, these factors may weight against permitting such activities:

¯ whether there has been a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the area;

OBSERVER File Photo Chautauqua Lake’s Lily Woodis and other local basketball players will be allowed to start their seasons Feb. 1 if local Health Departments give the OK.

¯ local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity; and

¯ local ability to monitor and enforce compliance.”

NYSPHSAA began its winter season for low- and moderate-risk sports this past Monday. Locally, boys swimming, bowling and skiing teams opened practice that day. Those sports will be able to begin competition after practicing six times, for a possible start date of this coming Monday.

Now the focus shifts to county Health Departments and Monday, Feb. 1.

If Chautauqua and/or Cattaraugus counties allow, basketball and wrestling teams will be able to start practicing that day. Basketball student-athletes are required to practice six times and will be able to play their first games Monday, Feb. 8. Wrestling requires 10 practices before competition, giving those student-athletes a first possible match Friday, Feb. 12. That could change by a day or two if the state waives the seven consecutive day rule, which Zayas said is under consideration.

The NYSPHSAA had already set tentative dates for perspective Winter, Fall II and Spring seasons late last year assuming all sports would be allowed to play at some point. For the Winter season, NYSPHSAA proposed a timeline of Jan. 4 through March 13. For Fall II — which would include football and volleyball — the season was tentatively set to run March 1 through May 8. For the Spring season, the tentative dates were April 5 through June 12. NYSPHSAA has already canceled winter state championships.

Late Friday afternoon, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist weighed in on the matter on Twitter.

“For our sports teams, we are aware of the new guidance from the State today and will be processing it over the weekend as we get further info from the State & County Health Dept.,” Sundquist tweeted. “Please be patient.”

Within an hour of Friday’s announcement, Dr. Mike Mendoza, Monroe County’s commissioner of public health, tweeted that his county would be approving high-risk sports beginning Feb. 1.

“I support allowing higher risk sports activities to resume on 2/1/21, and I support allowing these activities to begin in Monroe County,” Mendoza said. “We will continue conversations with school leaders to develop specific plans to ensure the health and safety of our athletes.”

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello then released a joint statement with Dr. Mendonza.

“Over the past several weeks, we have heard from many parents, families and student-athletes regarding a return of ‘higher-risk’ high school sports. This is an issue we’ve been continuously advocating for through the Finger Lakes Regional Control Room, to ensure our young athletes have an opportunity to compete safely. There have been many meetings with the Monroe County School Superintendents and Athletic Directors, as this planning requires public health and safety remain at the forefront,” the statement read. “Our school districts have done an incredible job mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We support the Governor’s proposal to allow these activities to resume on Feb. 1, 2021, and we support allowing these activities to begin in Monroe County. We will begin again meeting with area school leadership in the coming days to develop plans so that our young people in Monroe County can participate.

“We know how hard the last 10 months have been for our community, particularly our students and high school student-athletes,” the statement continued. “The return of high school sports will give them a sense of normalcy, and an opportunity to compete with their friends and classmates.”

On Monday, NYSPHSAA will release an updated Return to Interscholastic Athletics resource document for Winter sports and Fall II.

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