Syracuse, N.Y. — With time quickly running out on the possibility of even the briefest of winter seasons, Section III athletic officials are still holding off on canceling wrestling, hockey and basketball.
Those sports, along with fall activities football and volleyball, remain categorized by the state department of health as high risk for the spread of the coronavirus. As such, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said they can practice but not play games.
The window for winter sports in Section III has been shortened to a stretch between Jan. 4 and Feb. 28. Fall sports season II, which could include football and volleyball, is set to start March 1.
Section III executive director John Rathbun and other local and state high school officials are waiting to wipe away winter high-risk sports until February draws closer. If those sports get approval within the next couple of weeks, that would leave roughly two or three weeks of potential competition after they squeeze in the required practice time.
Section III’s athletic council will hold a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. Rathbun said he doesn’t expect any decisions on the fate of the winter season and said much of the discussion will center around options and planning.
It seems that nothing is off the table in the effort to salvage sports, including holding indoor track season outside in the spring and moving wrestling and/or football to that same place on the calendar.
“I think we need to be creative in different things we can do for our students,” Rathbun said. “Nothing is set in stone, but nothing is a bad idea right now.”
Meanwhile, frustrated parents and coaches have been amping up their pressure campaigns on the governor’s office and looking longingly to the success of other states as models for what might be possible in New York.
A recent story in the Chicago Sun-Times highlighted a University of Wisconsin-Madison study that suggested high school sports did not cause an increase in Covid infections among athletes.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 35 states held scholastic football seasons this fall, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Thirty states have begun basketball season, including Massachusetts.
“Time and time again Gov. Cuomo has stressed the importance of maintaining safety and responsible measures, and we agree that these are critical to the forward movement of our state,” Section III girls volleyball chairperson Mary Jo Cerqua wrote in an email to state government officials and high school athletic directors.
“However, we must also acknowledge that small steps toward “normalcy” can be accomplished while also upholding the health and well-being of New Yorkers.”
Auburn football coach Dave Moskov has a friend who coaches high school football in Marietta, Georgia. That state pulled off a successful football season.
“The clock is ticking,” Moskov said of New York’s winter window. “This thing has to happen now in order for the season to take place. There’s a lot of conversation. But the governor has to make this happen. Is he going to make a decision? In my opinion, the decision should have already been made.”
West Genesee hockey coach Frank Colabufo is running practices for youth hockey programs operated through the Town of Camillus. Practices are permitted under state guidelines, but games played in New York are not allowed.
Some of Colabufo’s high school players are skating with junior teams in Rochester and Buffalo that are traveling to other states to play games. He scratches his head when pondering how that type of activity is safely unfolding while scholastic games in New York are still prohibited.
“What science is Gov. Cuomo referring to, to make hockey a high-risk sport? We don’t know. We can only speculate,” Colabufo said.
Sectional chairpersons in wrestling and football recently held statewide Zoom calls to discuss possibilities, but little can be resolved.
“I think that the state (athletic) office people are advocating for us to participate, that they are doing as much as they can at this point. I think many of us feel nothing is going to change, so we won’t have wrestling this season,” said Section III wrestling chairman Brad Hamer.
“We all feel we can do it safely,” said Bob Campese, co-chairman of football in Section III. “We’re staying positive. We are not going to get frustrated. I think we’re all in agreement we have to do what we can for student-athletes.”
There is another foreboding agreement among everyone involved in that challenge, however: The chance to create those opportunities this winter is virtually gone.
“You can’t keep putting it off. The window is closing rapidly,” Colabufo said. “Everyone is just fingers crossed as we watch the season evaporate.”
Lindsay Kramer is a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard and syracuse.com. Got a comment or idea for a story? He can be reached via email at LKramer@Syracuse.com.
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