1. It was at the end of this eventful week that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association released its long-awaited guidance plan for the return of high school sports. Covering at least 50 pages, it went over all of the safety standards and regulations that needed to be met in the weeks and months ahead. All of it was done with a full intention of getting the fall sports season underway on September 21, but even with NYSPHSAA’s jurisdiction, the ultimate decision lay in the hands of the 11 individual sections and school superintendents within those sections which had shown hesitation of having any after-school activities, wanting to emphasize getting classrooms going again before anything else.
2. What gave NYSPHSAA some more room to have fall sports was a decision made early last week based upon recommendations by its COVID-19 Task Force. Namely, the start of the winter sports season, originally set for November 16, was pushed back to November 30, which, in theory, gave sections more than two months to complete the fall schedule if they so desired. It also, unintentionally, answered a long-held criticism made by athletes and coaches in all sports about the close proximity and overlap of the fall and winter seasons, which had initially been addressed by NYSPHSAA, starting this school year, pushing back the start of winter sports one week on the calendar before COVID upended everything.
3. At the same time, NYSPHSAA laid out parameters for fall sports practices different from years past. Now, in the name of safety, teams in most of the sports would have to do 10 practices before a contest, while football would need 12 practices – and, of course, volleyball and football remained in the “high-risk” category, allowed to practice but not yet cleared to have games. Also, the rule of not having practices on seven consecutive days was waived, given the time constraints. Teams could not have games against opponents outside its section or region until after October 19, though games within the section remained okay and, given Section III’s large geographic footprint, it still allowed for plenty of long road trips and a relatively flexible schedule.
4. To expand further on the point of allowing seven consecutive practice days, this could, in theory, mean that we see actual games take place at the start of October. Say that soccer and field hockey have 10 consecutive days of practice starting on September 21. That would mean they could have a game on October 1. Football, if allowed, could have a game or scrimmage that first weekend of October. But if, by chance, the fall sports get moved to 2021 by any section, the whole cycle would have to repeat itself with 10 or 12 more practice days before any contest, and this on top of the fact that their season would have to be squeezed in between winter and spring, obviously affecting participation by multi-sport athletes.
5. Another fundamental aspect of high school sports that would be different this season would center on spectators. From a perspective of outdoor sports, regardless of the contest only two spectators per athlete would be allowed, splitting the difference between the lack of crowds we’ve seen in various pro sports in America and abroad, and letting everyone come back. By far the biggest casualty of this state rule is not having student sections at big games regardless of the sport. Though not quite the numbers you see in college sports, these student sections always brought energy, especially at Friday-night football showdowns, so not having them would take a crucial element away from the high-school sports experience, even if it’s justified.
6. When it comes to indoor sports – girls swimming is the only one allowed to go ahead full-steam at this point, but a whole lot of others show up in winter – the state’s current spectator policy would limit capacity in a gym or arena or pool or ice rink to 50 percent and below. That still could mean larger crowds than fall sports if those regulations are followed to the letter. However, from the beginning of the pandemic what everyone wanted to avoid the most was indoor events with large crowds since they were, and are, considered super-spreaders. Thus, this whole set-up may depend on where we stand with infections as 2020 winds down, and whether treatments and a possible vaccine might change the equation and finally open things up.
7. Big news arrived early last week after we talked so much about Tully superstar Brooke Rauber, a four-time state cross country champion, holder of the Section III record in the mile and a winner of international races, too. Rauber decided that, in the fall of 2021, she is going to North Carolina State, making the Wolfpack a virtual Dream Team of New York State superstars. Already N.C. State has three-time Nike Nationals winner Katelyn Tuohy from North Rockland and two local greats, Fayetteville-Manlius’ Claire Walters and Liverpool’s Jenna Schulz, on its roster as they all are freshmen. Now with Rauber, the Wolfpack have every reason to think they can win a national championship when they return in 2021.
8. It’s never too early to share some basketball news. Section III released some changes in where some private-school teams would compete this winter should there be a season. In boys basketball, CBA, the reigining Clas A sectional champions, move up to Class AA to join “Holy War” rival Bishop Ludden as Syracuse Academy of Science joins Bishop Grimes and Utica-Notre Dame among the Class A ranks and Utica Academy of Science goes from Class C to B. On the girls side, CBA, reigning Class A boys sectional champions, were moved back to Class AA, while Bishop Ludden finds itself in Class A. Bishop Grimes and Utica Notre Dame remain in Class B after the Cobras went to the sectional final a year ago.
9. Two former Bishop Ludden basketball stars are now in the prep school ranks, looking for increased exposure from colleges. Jai Smith had left the Gaelic Knights before last season, but now Smith finds himself at Bull City Prep, not far from Duke in Durham, North Carolina, and already a wave of schools are showing interest in the 6-9 forward, with scholarship offers from the likes of West Virginia, Ole Miss, Memphis and UMass. Monte Johnson might not draw that kind of attention, but the Ludden forward announced a couple of weeks ago that he is going to Woodstock Academy in Connecticut this fall, clearly intending to build upon the work he did leading Ludden to the sectional Class AA semifinals last February.
10. So who will go first in high school sports? Likely boys golf, because their practice schedule is not as constrained as even the other non-contact sports. In years past, fall golf teams would get underway one or two weeks before school started in order to get in all of their matches, plus a fall sectional tournament, before the colder temperatures and wetter conditions kicked in. Even if they do start earlier than other sports, they’ll have to squeeze in their matches in a shorter time window and hope it doesn’t turn frigid. Unlike the other fall sports, though, they could switch to spring and not be too affected because their state championships take place in June anyway, usually after qualifying tournaments in each section.