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NY football teams brace for fall sports decision

This Monday would have marked the first big date on the New York state high school football schedule.

In mid-to-late August, teams would report for their first practices after weeks of preparation from the coaching staff, off-season conditioning and workouts. But rather than planning practice this August, all New York’s gridiron coaches can do is wait, and encourage their players to work out on their own in hopes of playing a season later.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) postponed all fall high school sports by a month (from Aug. 24 to Sept. 21) in July while it waited for guidance from the state government. That guidance appears to be near, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated, saying “we’ll have an answer within the week,” on Wednesday, regarding high school sports.

But with football considered a high-risk sport, coaches have prepared for the possibility they won’t play this fall, and instead try the NYSPHSAA’s stated backup plan of moving football to the spring.

Bolivar-Richburg coach Steve Smith, who sits on the Section 5 football committee, said the section has prepared schedules for both scenarios.

“WE (THE Section 5 committee), to all coaches and athletic directors last week, sent out two separate schedules,” Smith said. “One that would start if we get started on Sept. 21, essentially the schedule would be October and November, the second schedule was based on the condensed seasons, so that was more like a March-April schedule. So what we did with those was send it out to all coaches and athletic directors, just to do our best to keep them in the loop with what we’re getting from the state, which at this point we haven’t gotten that much.

“Obviously, we just have to be as patient as we can and see what we’re allowed to do, if we’re allowed to do anything.”

Smith said he’s encouraged players to stay in shape, but doubts they’re close to football-ready without the team’s usual summer workouts.

“My entire staff, which I have several coaches who their sons play, we just wanted to get the word out back in June, make sure that you’re working out and doing everything you can on your own, knowing that we’re just not allowed to have any contact with them,” he said. “It was such a strange summer, nothing that any of us has obviously gone through.

“I know a lot of our kids were playing travel baseball and doing some other stuff, so there’s no doubt they’re active but they’re not football active, so that was discussed too. What happens if we’re cleared to go on Sept. 21, are we really expecting to play in two weeks, not having worked with our kids all summer?”

Robert Zayas, the NYSPHSAA executive director, tweeted a timeline to formalize sports plans following Cuomo’s announcement next week. Within 24 hours, the section directors and

NYSPHSAA officers will meet; within 48 hours, the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force will meet; and within 72 hours the NYSPHSAA “will make a decision ‘IF’ needed.”

SALAMANCA COACH Chad Bartoszek said his coaching staff would embrace either scenario, playing in the fall or the spring, but hopes teams can see the season through either way. He hopes, whether or not Cuomo allows football to start in September, that conditioning could start soon.

“At this point, I just don’t want to get into a situation in the fall where we start and then stop, and then there’s a possibility that there are kids who maybe didn’t get their opportunity,” he said. “If we’re going to go in the fall, we’ve got to stick with it. And if we’re not going to go in the fall, let’s set this in stone in the spring — flexible dates, but set it in stone — that we’re going to have a season. It’s going to be a logistical nightmare for coaches and field use, I get that, but we’ve got to make adjustments.

“Everyone’s going to have to collaborate and work together, and then let us, this fall, train our athletes. Let us condition, let us get together, get a little of that team bonding. I know there are some colleges, and PA is still waiting, but can we practice? Would they let you do 7-on-7, would different sports be able to run some minimized practice settings with low numbers? Then all of a sudden you could use the fall as a build-up for multiple sports, and then hit the ground running.”

Looking over the social distancing guidelines that schools will follow to reopen, Bartoszek isn’t sure if the state will allow contact sports or large groups to gather in areas such as locker rooms.

“I’M EXCITED about the opportunity, because the official announcement is coming soon,” he said. “But I just don’t see, based off of what we’re doing to get kids into the school, or not into the school, how logistically the football setup would work. The on-the-field stuff, when we’re in equipment, I know we’re going to be close to each other; obviously it’s a contact sport. But I feel like that’s a place where they may be the safest, because you are going to be in contact with each other, but there are ways to regulate how close we get early on in the practice schedule. The first couple weeks we could come up with ways to regulate it, keep groups in certain areas and distance. Eventually, obviously, you’ve got to tackle and hit, but we may know more by then. But my biggest worry is the locker room situation, the equipment, the travel, where do you meet? All those things we would be breaking some of the guideline rules for our kids to even go to school.”

The Salamanca coaches suggested switching to a model similar to youth football, where players are responsible for their own equipment throughout the season and arrive at the practice field dressed to play.

“All that’s just us coaches wanting to play football, I don’t think any of that’s realistic in terms of what the guidelines are, unfortunately,” Bartoszek said.

“Now, are they going to let us start working out? That’s a different story. If they say we can start working out, we can handle that for sure. If we can start our strength and conditioning on the field like other states have been doing, we can handle that. That’s going to be important in preparation, if they give us the green light on (September 21); they need to let us strength and condition prior to that, or there’s going to be a whole host of injuries.

“We’ll need a couple weeks just to see them, ‘Hey guys, how are we doing? Get in these lines, let’s do a little bit of this and that,’ and build up until the 21st. We’re excited, but unfortunately I’m not very optimistic at this point. But we’re ready.”

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