Dr. Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association, said Monday that it was with great disappointment that his organization had elected to cancel the remaining winter state championships.
While I, too, am disappointed that the business end of the winter season has been blunted, I applaud Zayas and the association for making a necessary, if potentially unpopular, decision.
Certainly, it is a decision that will cause emotional pain for athletes, coaches and all others involved in the now-canceled state playoffs. If some were to blame Zayas or others at NYSPHSAA for depriving the student-athletes of their hard-earned right to make lifelong memories, it could be forgiven, as it is an emotional subject.
But if we look at a few pillars of interscholastic athletics and apply them to the decision facing the association, the decision to cancel was the only logical conclusion. Maybe it will serve as a feeble consolation to those feeling the pain of loss rather than the frustration of defeat.
Those involved in athletics have a responsibility to the community: Student-athletes are often reminded that the way they conduct themselves while wearing the uniform, and indeed even when they are not, represents programs, schools and communities. It is a tremendous responsibility.
At this time, the best course of action for schools and their respective communities is to avoid gathering in large numbers. While younger athletes appear to be less at-risk than other members of the community, the responsibility to protect those community members by slowing the spread of the virus remains. Especially for those that could carry a virus and still play a basketball game in an empty gym without becoming short of breath.
Health and well-being, two other key components of high school athletics, are at stake. We must all do our part, even if the sacrifices of these athletes are unfairly outsized.
Leadership is unselfish, and at times, unpopular: The decision to cancel was not a choice anyone that loves high school sports was hoping to make or accept. The disappointment Zayas references is likely not fear that the incorrect decision was made, but regret that it was taken out of his hands.
Having spoken to players and coaches since initial postponements were announced about two weeks ago, it was not the missed opportunity for glory that they found most unfair. Rather, they most resented the lost opportunity to prove themselves, and together exert their influence over the season’s final stages. It’s a conflict that appears to put players and coaches more in line with NYSPHSAA than opposed to it.
Winning the ultimate prize does not determine success: No teams will take home a coveted state championship this season, but it does not diminish the achievements of the teams that were still playing at the time of cancellation, or any team at all.
Hopefully the shine will not be taken off of all that area teams achieved this winter, whether they still had games on the schedule or not.
I reiterate that I am fortunate to not, myself, be one of the athletes that missed the rightful conclusion to their season. I really do empathize. But right now there is a larger opponent, and we will need all of the wisdom, discipline and camaraderie it takes to reach a regional final, and then some, to overcome it.