I would again like to emphasize my gratitude to all of those involved with the accomplishments which we have witnessed due to the fall sports season taking place. To know that we have successfully and safely managed the fall sports season truly is a blessing! It has been enjoyable not only our athletes, but for our families, the local media, our officials and frankly everyone who enjoys high school athletics in communities everywhere. It is a testament to the combined efforts of many and will hopefully serve as an example that we can offer a “normal” experience to our youth if afforded the opportunity.
It is safe to say that everyone in the North Country with a pulse regarding athletics knows those schools which have seen their seasons cut short. We can all empathize with them as we work diligently to ensure that we are not added to that list. In almost every instance, the school and resultant sports season closures were not due to participation in athletics, but for a variety of other reasons altogether.
I continue to argue that athletic participation works to ensure the health, well-being and safety of our youth. If this outlet was not available to them, there would be surely be more social gatherings with our teen population which, if I might add, would not be supervised by certified individuals such as our coaches. This is only speculation of course but it comes from a place of common sense since this age group may be entering the most socially engaged time of their lives. I sometimes wonder if teen drinking and driving incidents are reduced when young people are engaged in sports? I wonder if practices which encourage adequate rest and recovery and good nutrition are not positive influences for our students? Do students perform better in school as a result of participation as much as the research suggests? If nothing else, I am comforted by the fact that for a few hours each afternoon, our student-athletes are doing something physically, mentally and emotionally positive. A price tag cannot be placed on the value of these opportunities!
Now that we have made the fall season successful, it is time to start thinking about the winter season. There has been a question which has loomed in the heads and hearts of those who enjoy our winter sports landscape for many months now. Will we have sports this winter? Other questions which I have received. Will we have high risk sports such as wrestling, basketball, and ice hockey? What about indoor track and field and swimming? They are low risk sports. When does the winter season begin? Will there be only varsity sports? What about my children, they are involved in modified athletics? JV? When will you know? Will the athletes need to wear masks? Can we still play teams in our region or will we have to play local teams? The simple and honest answer is….. we just don’t know yet. For now, the doors remain closed.
Having managed a successful fall campaign should serve as a positive argument that if given the opportunity, we can make something work for our winter sport athletes. Perhaps this means reduced participants in our indoor practices. Maybe just the two teams compete against each other in an empty arena, pool, track or gymnasium? Maybe this means that spectators will only be able to view games, meets and matches using a video platform. Perhaps our boys swimmers enter the pool area for their races and then wait in another location until their next race? Maybe we practice the boys indoor track team on one day and the girls on another so as not to crowd their practice space. The bottom line is if we are able to have sports, we will work through the logistics and issues. One thing is for certain, they are going to look dramatically different from past years. We will without a doubt be asking you all for your support once again.
I was encouraged when I read an article regarding the State of New Jersey attempting to open their high school athletic programs a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, as we now see collegiate athletic leagues choosing to shut down their seasons, the closure of SUNY and other college campuses, and the increase in local and regional COVID-19 infection rates, I am less optimistic. These instances only work to increase the challenges of opening winter sports. I still have hope that we will give it a try!
As we await direction and guidance from the New York State Department of Health and The Governor’s Office, I will choose to enjoy the remaining weeks of the fall sports season and look at each individual day as a blessing. I am confident that there are many competent individuals advocating for us for a safe winter sports opening at each the local, section and state levels. As the fall leaves continue to shed a dusting of winter snow, may any negativity associated with the unknown be shed for the joy of fall sports and the possibility of winter play.