County officials in Putnam and Dutchess letting schools establish guidelines for sports
Optimism is slowly making a comeback.
A week after the New York State Education department issued health and safety guidance that raised eyebrows and left decisions about the immediate future of interscholastic athletics in the hands of local health and school officials, there do not appear to be any red flags.
So far, at least two counties around the region have informed schools they will not stand in the way of the fall season.
Putnam County shared the CDC recommendations with local schools this week and will be leaving all decisions about interscholastic athletics up to each individual district, according to Patricia Simone, who is County Executive MaryEllen Odell's chief of staff.
The same is true in Dutchess County.
"(We) continue to work closely with school districts, supporting the development of their plans for safe interscholastic sporting opportunities," said Andrew Sherman Evans Jr., who is the Coordinator of Communicable Disease for the Public Health and Disease Prevention Division of Dutchess County. "We recognize the value of extracurricular activities for our young people and feel confident that with proper mitigation strategies, these activities can and should proceed this school year."
Section 1 is made up of schools in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and part of Dutchess. Section 9 is made up of schools in Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and the rest of Dutchess.
Orange County is expecting more guidance from the state, according to director of communications Justin Rodriguez.
"The county has had multiple conversations with the incoming governor’s office and state and is anticipating guidelines from the state on fall sports next week," he said. "This week, the county has also had several discussions with all our school district superintendents about the upcoming school year. The county will follow the guidelines set forth by the state."
It's unclear exactly where that guidance may be coming from as the state education department has already weighed in and there are no recommendations coming from the NYSPHSAA.
"We are not planning on issuing any further guidance at this point in time," NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said. "We're encouraging our member schools to work with their local departments of health. There are no mandates or restrictions that would prevent the fall season from taking place so we're planning to start on Monday."
The plan is to have sectional and state tournaments at the end of the season.
According to Section 9 executive director Greg Ransom, the season will open Monday as scheduled with the athletic council voting next week on protocols for practices and games.
Officials from Westchester, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster are either still in conversation with the schools or did not respond to questions about interscholastic athletic protocols. So far, the schools are moving forward and the first official day of practice for all NYSPHSAA schools is Monday.
“What I’ve been told is we’re a go," Yorktown athletic director Rob Barrett said. "We’re going with things as normal in terms of registration, but we’re still concerned about the Delta variant and what needs to be done in terms of safety. We’re taking a common-sense approach based on the information we have and going with things we did that made sense last year, like social distancing when possible, bringing water bottles from home and wearing masks indoors. We may also practice again in pods.
"And we’re hoping for the best just like we did last year.”
The state last week suggested high-risk sports like football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading be canceled in areas with high COVID transmission rates unless all participants were vaccinated, raising the level of concern.
It was not a mandate, however.
Section 1's executive committee held an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday and on Thursday issued a statement of support for all sports. The committee encouraged schools to implement layered prevention strategies in alignment with CDC and NYSED guidance. It also called for increased communication between schools ahead of each scheduled contest to share the protocols in place at the home site.
With each school district scripting its own health and safety rules, the directives will vary from school to school. Unless state or county officials see a need to step in, that includes potential spectator maximums.
"Last year, at times, our participation seemed far from certain," Section 1 executive director Todd Santabarbara said in the statement. "As we enter the fall season, we look forward to building on the successes of the 2020-21 school year. Our organization and its member schools used this opportunity to come away with effective strategies that will assist in navigating our full return in the fall."
The section will also respect the protocols of schools that implement guidelines stricter than what the CDC and NYSED recommend.
Times Herald-Record sportswriter Ken McMillan contributed to this story.
Mike Dougherty covers boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls basketball and golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.