Democrat and Chronicle (New York)
August 14, 2021
The New York State Education Department’s recommendation to cancel football and other high risk sports in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates, “unless all participants are fully vaccinated,” shook Section V after Thursday’s announcement.
Monroe County is among the counties with “high” rates of transmission over the last seven days, threatening the start of the upcoming fall season that includes football, volleyball and competitive cheer/dance, which at this time last year were labeled as high-risk sports for spreading the coronavirus.
NYSED released its 21-page “Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-2022 School Year” on Thursday afternoon. The Center of Disease and Control’s recommendations for sports and other extracurricular activities are on pages 11 and 12.
“Obviously, we take it very seriously,” Hilton athletic director Mike Giruzzi said. “We will be spending time digging deep into the recommendations, getting an understanding and its implications.
“Frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot that was made clear, at this time.”
Everyone from coaches, school administrators, student-athletes, section and New York State Public High School Athletic Association sports officials, were seemingly blindsided by the recommendations.
“NYSPHSAA has received the NYSED ‘Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-22 School Year’. We encourage our member schools to utilize this document and consult with local health departments as they plan for the 2021-22 fall interscholastic athletic season scheduled to begin August 23rd. NYSPHSAA will continue working with state officials to ensure student athletes have a safe and successful academic and athletic school year,” NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas said in a statement.
What we know
There is a lot of information out there, and more to come, but here is what we do know about the new NYSED Guide and some of the reaction to it in Section V or greater Rochester region high school sports:
• The recommendations by the state education department were just that, suggestions. At this point, no sport is committed to play or ordered sidelined for the fall.
• Officials at school districts and school leaders will have the final say whether high school sports take place this fall.
• Section V, which sanctions almost all high school sports in the greater Rochester region, currently is pledging to help schools put together full fall seasons, the organization’s normal role.
• Other recommended guidelines: consider playing outdoors, COVID-19 screening testing at schools for students and parents either participating or supporting, students should refrain from activities and get tested if symptomatic.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 wiped out some state tournaments for the winter seasons and prevented spring teams from even getting started.
With the pandemic still lingering and a long list of safety measures in place, high school sports took place all over New York state during the 2020-21 school year.
“Last year, the member schools of Section V I think, did a very solid job in delivering a well-balanced athletic program,” Section V Executive Director Kathy Hoyt said. “For the most part, it was safe and positive.”
There were plenty of adjustments made in regions around the state, including in Section V, where all sports offered annually took place in one of five seasons.
Most seasons were condensed or shortened. Football, cheer/dance and volleyball were shifted from the fall to the spring, but every sport in the greater Rochester region had sectionals.
“If we do things like implement the same protocols, I think we can move forward as planned based on the right here, and right now,” Hoyt said. “Now, you and I know, everything is changing daily, but based on right now, in a way, we’ve proven we can do it.
“Districts have proven that they can do it. Coaches, athletes, principals and athletic directors have proven they can do it. Were some teams affected last year? Absolutely. I equate it to in any other school year, where on a Friday night you might have to call another AD and say we can’t play the game or match.”
What will schools do now?
For now, school district and school officials will research and perhaps swap ideas.
Athletic directors in the Monroe County Public School Athletic Association met recently. The release of the state education department’s suggestions came less than two weeks before the opening of the fall season, with the first scheduled games, meets, matches and competitions about a week or so after that.
“As we move forward, and I communicated this to our staff, from what we know right now, our fall season is going to proceed as planned,” Giruzzi said. “We as an athletic department, we’ll be working under the guidance of our district reopening plan.”
Giruzzi said the Hilton school district’s goal is to share that reopening plan in the next seven to 10 days.
The timetable at Aquinas, where Dr. Anthony Cook is president of the Dewey Avenue private school, is the next week or two. Aquinas had in-person classroom instruction all five days last school year.
“We will plan to do that this year, we will do whatever needs to be done to do that for our families,” Dr. Cook said. “For middle and high school students, activities as a whole – clubs, kids that are in the dramatics, who are a part of choir and bands and sports – are so integral for their well-being mentally and socially.”
Cook has praise for not only how Aquinas athletes, coaches and officials maneuvered through the sports seasons in 2020-21, but all of Section V.
“If Section V and (NYSPHSAA) were to offer athletics, we would be a part of it and offer it,” Dr. Cook said. “It would be up to a family to choose whether their young men and women would participate under the certain circumstances.
“I believe most, if not all, of the students who would have participated in athletics, still participated in athletics (at Aquinas). I would foresee a similar turnout this year, if they are able to participate.”
What is the plan of coaches and athletes?
Aquinas football coach Derek Annechino had a simple answer.
“Business as usual,” Annechino said. “We’ll follow the directives that Aquinas gives us to ensure our students are healthy and stay healthy.”
Aquinas’ football team, and many other fall squads have been gearing up for the fall season. Student-athletes in Section V and all over the state have been attending team workouts and camps to get a head start on the season, which officially begins Monday, Aug. 23.
Although coaches have no plans on stopping workouts, there is still some worry for high-risk sports seasons this fall.
“Anytime you’re talking about losing sports, there’s always cause for concern, but right now there’s not enough information to be devastated,” Annechino said.
According to Annechino, Aquinas didn’t have a COVID-19 outbreak all school year. The same can be said for the football team.
“Aquinas … did a fantastic job with protocols and procedures,” Annechino said.
Jayden Scott, a senior at Rush-Henrietta, said the safety protocols, including increased cleaning of equipment, social distancing and the wearing of masks seemed effective enough during Section V’s spring football season.
“Just keep the mask on,” Scott said. “It wasn’t too bad (trying to play while wearing a mask). No one looked at it as bad, we just wanted a season.
“Working out in the summer, it was wear masks. If you’re sick, don’t come. Before (sessions) we had to fill out forms just to make sure everything was OK. It was check up form, nothing long.”
Scott, who also wrestles at Rush-Henrietta, said he found out the upcoming fall football season could be at risk after his uncle sent him a copy of an article talking about the state education department’s suggestions.
“I understand they are doing it for safety reasons, but sports are an opportunity to go to college for free, or for a lot cheaper,” Scott said. “Canceling seasons would ruin a lot of opportunities, in a way.”
The guidelines even caught Penfield boys volleyball coach Mike Fusare by surprise. He is also concerned that his players won’t reap the benefits of the hard work they’ve put in this summer.
“All I want is for my kids to have the opportunity to play,” Fusare said.
What we don’t know
• Which sports are considered high-risk when it comes to transmitting COVID-19. Technically, no sport has a low, medium or high risk label attached to it, as of June 15. Football, wrestling and cheer/dance were listed as examples of sports in which “sustained contact was required.” Cheer/dance is a sport that has “elevated risk” when it comes to transmission of coronavirus, because it involves shouting.
• Will there be any school districts that follows NYSED’s recommendation to cancel what are believed to be high-risk sports?
• Was NYSED’s guide released early enough to give districts enough time to properly plan around these suggestions?
• The fate of sectional and state playoffs.