They day many Western New York high school sports fans have dreaded is finally here.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced Wednesday that all high-risk fall sports — football, volleyball and cheerleading — will be pushed back into the spring for a "fall sports season II" to round out the 2020-21 school year. Instead of starting these seasons on Sept. 21, like the remaining fall sports, the high-risk sports will open practices on March 1, 2021.
The remaining fall sports include cross country, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming, girls tennis and field hockey.
“We’ve spent two days speaking with nearly 500 athletic directors across the state and it’s clear that administering high-risk fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a significant challenge for our member schools,” said NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas. “These are unprecedented times and unfortunately, difficult decisions will have to be made to address this ongoing crisis. We continue to stay committed to providing support to our member schools and quality participation experiences for the students we serve.”
The decision to have this second fall season also led to NYSPHSAA delaying the start of the spring season, going from its March 15, 2021 start to April 19, 2021.
Niagara Falls athletic director Joe Contento understands the decision, as he shared how the health and safety of the kids was prioritized above all. But he did add a possible concern about the "fall sports season II" potentially taking place at the same time as the spring.
"This is a good compromise to keep the safety of our students a priority," Contento said via text message. "Without guaranteed contests (scheduled), it is (the) right move for our student-athletes. My hope is that we shorten the seasons so there isn't any overlapping. We have many multi-sport athletes at Niagara Falls High School and I want to see them have the opportunity (to) play all of their sports."
Grand Island football coach Dean Santorio was not thrilled initially, but he understands the safety of the players must come first. Like Contento, he also wants to ensure kids get to play out their full seasons come spring.
"I am a little conflicted with the move to March 1, but if it is truly in the best interest of health then I am OK with it," said Santorio in another text exchange. "Especially if it allows us to have a season and not conflict much with the spring sports our kids will be playing also. Moving spring sports to (an) April 19 start date helps that situation. I want our kids to be able to play both seasons without having to choose one and enjoy their playing experiences in both seasons. If that happen, and we have fewer restrictions in 6 months, I am satisfied with it."
Wilson AD Jeff Roth also added comments on the delayed high-risk fall sports, as his district prepares to get the other fall sports going for Sept. 21.
I respect the decision by NYSPHSAA to move the high risk sports out of the traditional fall season," Roth said. "In Wilson, we will continue to work towards providing a safe environment for our student athletes to participate in throughout the rest of the fall and into the winter and spring seasons."