By Steve Bittenbender
Starting next week, high school sports in New York considered high risk may be able to start activities if approved by the local health department.
The decision, announced late Friday by state officials, caught some by surprise. An updated document from the state Department of Health indicated that not only can individuals take part in individual or group training activities, but they “further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments” with the permission of their county’s health department.
For the immediate future, it means such sports as basketball, ice hockey, competitive cheerleading, volleyball, and wrestling can start this coming Monday.
Fall season II sports, including football, cheer, and volleyball, can start as early as March 1.
Those sports were considered high risk for COVID-19 exposure and spread due to the frequent use of shared equipment, such as balls. Additionally, those sports require close contact among players or participants.
The change also applies to other youth and adult amateur athletic leagues.
In a statement, Dr. Robert Zayas, the executive director for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, welcomed the decision by state officials.
“I am thrilled our association’s member schools will be able to provide over two hundred thousand students with valuable and beneficial participation experiences,” Zayas said. “Today is certainly a great day for the students of New York State.”
The association updated its return guidance policies for Winter and Fall II sports on Monday. Following decisions made last year, none of the sports will hold regional or state championships.
The decision by state officials came a week after three Republican lawmakers from the state’s Southern Tier region urged the Cuomo Administration to lift the restrictions.
State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, Assemblyman Chris Friend, R-Big Flats, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, applauded the decision.
“It’s an important step for athletes and their families, coaches, and entire school communities, and we join them in looking forward to the return of high school sports,” they said in a joint statement.
Health departments that signed off Monday on allowing winter sports to proceed included Erie County in far western New York and Suffolk County on Long Island.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said if a player or coach tests positive, the entire team must suspend their activities for 10 days.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone tweeted Monday evening that student-athletes will take a pledge to make wise choices on and off the field and agree to follow all COVID-19 protocols. He later added that athletes in high-risk sports will undergo weekly testing.
“By allowing high-risk sports such as basketball, football, and competitive cheer to resume, Suffolk County is providing opportunities for our student-athletes to safely compete,” the Democratic leader said.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.