In a week that began with a seed of hope for the return of interscholastic sports, only for subsequent days to cast doubt on whether or not that hope would come to fruition, the week’s end arrived with little further clarity on the fate of the fall season in Section IV.
Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Monday, Aug. 24, that most fall sports would be allowed to begin practicing and playing Sept. 21, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association began to work on how to provide the state’s sections with a framework in which a fall season could occur.
But with Section VIII voting to push the fall season to 2021 on Wednesday — the same day the state’s council of school superintendents released a letter to Gov. Cuomo asking him to reverse course — it became clear the return of fall sports was anything but assured.
What that means for Section IV is hard to say, according to Section IV Executive Director Ben Nelson. He said that Section IV is the only section that gives all of its districts a vote, 70 in total, and that accurately guessing how the 70 votes would break down is not possible.
“I hate to speculate, but there is definitely concern. On the other hand, you have to remember Section VIII is in a different situation as far as the virus goes,” Nelson said. “But at the same time, I understand the superintendents are under extreme pressure. They just want to get going education-wise.
And at the same time, my comment would be that there’s education through athletics and I don’t want to just miss that.”
Nelson said a simple majority of the 70 votes would determine whether or not a fall season comes to pass in the section. But he also said that the options are not as simple as deciding to play or not play.
He noted that a fall season could look like playing interscholastic games, but that a focus on intramural or limited-travel competition could also be an choice that splits more absolute options.
“We just had a state meeting this afternoon and we discussed all the other options, and all the problems,” he said. “I give so much credit to the superintendents who are working on getting kids just back to school, reopening. I just hope we don’t forget sports is an education as well.”
A former math teacher, Nelson said he saw firsthand the extracurricular value of athletics, but also noted that in his view, students do not require atmospheres of peak competitive spirit to glean the benefits of sports.
“Everybody is saying we need to get them back active, so let’s get them back active. Not with state championships and section championships, but we need kids back playing,” he said. “We’ve so much lost that. We have to win everything... let’s just play.”
His position appears identify a middle ground in a split opinion among local schools; he identified area specific parties that are in favor of having fall sports in as normal a manner as possible and as having a more cautious approach.
He did not specify when Section IV athletes could expect a decision on what the fall season would look like, with more meetings set for next week as NYSPHSAA continues to work on producing guidance from which superintendents will be able to inform their decision.
“We are not doing state championships or regional play, though we could maybe do sectionals if we wanted to, though I don’t see how. I say let’s just let the superintendents decide what they want to do in each league,” Nelson said. “If they want to do more than that, we would be happy to accommodate, but I don’t see how.”