Legislators, Athletic Administrators press Cuomo to allow High Risk sports to play

By Mike Wertman, Sports Writer Posted 15 January 2021 at 7:59 am

With neighboring states already well underway with their full winter sports seasons athletic administrators across the state and state legislators this week stepped up pressure to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the “High Risk” winter sports of basketball and wrestling to begin their seasons.

State Assemblyman Colin Schmitt from New Windsor introduced legislation to “compel the New York State Department of Education and the NYS Department of Health to allow interscholastic sports to be cleared to play this year using proper COVID-19 safety protocols.”

Assemblyman Schmitt stated that “interscholastic sports are an integral part of the school experience and a way to maintain a semblance of normalcy in an upended world.”

Schmitt continued that “currently some sports are being played in New York while others like basketball, football, ice hockey and more are not allowed, despite a majority of states, including neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut allowing basketball competition to begin this week.”

He added ” New York’s student-athletes should have equal opportunity to safely compete in all sports just like students in a majority of states in our nation. Medical and scientific data prove interscholastic sports using the proper protocols is safe during Covid-19.”

The New York State Athletic Administrators Association likewise sent a very pointed letter to the governor imploring Cuomo to “reconsider the decision to forego “high-risk” sports for the Winter and potentially for the remainder of the school year to permit play to begin immediately so these athletes can salvage a small season as some end their high school athletic careers.”

The letter continued “as a professional association, we ask for this with the knowledge that those sports are not only safe to run, but will be overseen by Athletic Administrators that have worked tirelessly to develop protocols to deal with the COVID-19 virus should there be an isolated case.  There are many documents authored by groups concerned directly with maintaining a safe environment for students, staff, and the surrounding communities and should be considered as a guide to the opening of a full sports program.  We have followed the NFHS, CDC, and DOH guidelines to the letter to begin our limited seasons and now feel confident that after seeing how the rest of the country has celebrated successes, it is time for New York to lead again.”

Additionally the letter stated to the Governor that ” you will note that many states have conducted research on the rate of transmission directly correlated with the number of cases and subsequent quarantines causing cessation of contests.  In every study there were less than 1% new cases and a much lower percentage resulting in suspensions or cancellations of contests.  There is no valid, scientific reason to assume that interscholastic sports are dangerous at any risk level. In fact, those state’s health departments seem to vary on which sports are actually “high-risk” and those that are not.  New York, for some reason, has a much different, subjective assessment in place.”

The letter continued that “furthermore, surrounding states have seen the necessity of keeping school sports programs operating and have identified mental health and increasing the socio-economic gaps as potential factors in cases of student depression and lower grades while engaged in some form of virtual learning. Student health and growth academically, emotionally, and physically are what is a part of every child’s life and we are the experts that contribute to that growth.  The Educational Framework for Athletics, a New York State Education Department document, is the lifeblood of our association and we see the benefits of our programs far beyond the classroom.”

In addition another lawsuit is being planned by the Buffalo law firm of HoganWillig demanding that the state to allow youth and high school “High-Risk” sports to begin playing. That is the law firm  which  this week successfully sued New York State to allow Erie County restaurants which are in an “Orange” zone to resume serving customers inside under “Yellow zone limitations of 50 percent capacity.

Time though is now certainly a factor in getting approval for the High Risk winter sports to begin as the so-called “Fall 2” season for the postponed High Risk Sports of football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading is scheduled to begin on March 1 to be followed by the regular spring sports season starting in mid April.