NYS to allow more sports; need local approval

ALBANY — Many high school sports including hockey and basketball can resume competitive events and practices Feb. 1 under the condition that local health authorities certify it is safe to stage the events, state officials decided Friday.

The new guidance from the Cuomo administration comes as coronavirus positivity rates from statewide testing have dropped for several consecutive days.

The updated state guidance for high school sports indicates that “effective February 1, 2021, participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training and, further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments, only as permitted by the respective local health authorities.”

In addition to hockey and basketball, the new guidance also applies to wrestling and competitive cheer.

Last fall, sports deemed to pose a lower risk for the spread of the coronavirus — soccer, tennis, cross country, field hockey and swimming — were allowed to begin practice and play in all regions of New York on Sept. 21.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said he has been advocating for the resumption of high school sports, and has been in regular contact with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

“Parents and the athletes have been looking for this, and if they can do this in a safe manner this is good news,” Jones said. “We have been asking for this guidance for several months now. Hopefully this will help schools and the student athletes get back to this normalcy.”

Sens. Pete Oberacker, R-Otsego County, and Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, have been involved in a petition drive calling for the resumption of school sports. Both greeted the announcement Friday night.

“Let’s keep the pressure on and insure that there is no reversal,” Oberacker tweeted. “And don’t forget the performing arts also need to restart.”

There was no indication that other pandemic-related restrictions — such as those imposed on restaurants and bars — will be eased soon.

Assemblyman Ed Ra, R-Nassau County, said the guidance offers young athletes the opportunity to “rejoin their teammates and make memories they’ll never forget.”

“Our kids and their coaches deserve a smooth, safe, coordinated transition back to game play,” Ra said.

In evaluating whether the high school sports should resume, local health departments were urged by the state to review the local infection rates, as well as discern if there are local cases of the United Kingdom variant of the virus.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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