NYSPHSAA took a first step in addressing this fall’s interscholastic sports season Wednesday, June 11, as the organization’s COVID-19 Task Force met for the first time.

The group heard updates from state government agencies regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on schools and interscholastic sports, according to a press release on the NYSPHSAA website.

“Our biggest challenge is simply waiting for the Governor and state department to provide their guidance,” Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director, told The Daily Star on Wednesday. “We have to be real careful of getting too far ahead and making decisions before the guidance is readily available.”

Perhaps the biggest development to stem from the meeting was the fact that until New York enters Stage 4 of its reopening, nothing will change.

“From the reports provided, it is clear school district facilities cannot be opened for student participation until Phase 4 is entered,” NYSPHSAA President and Task Force Chair, Paul Harrica said in the release. “The health and safety of our student-athletes remains our top priority.”

Other information addressed included a survey distributed by NYSPHSAA to about 6,000 school administrators and athletics personnel, gaining input from people in various relevant positions as to what they considered important ahead of the fall season.

From the several questions posed on the survey, those that responded almost entirely agreed on the safety of student-athletes as a top priority, while the completion of state championships was placed among the lowest priorities. All groups surveyed (superintendents, principals, athletic directors, coaches, athletic trainers and athletics executive directors) placed “safety of student-athletes, coaches and officials” as the top priority among other health-related factors, with no less than 48.7% of any group naming it a top priority, and no less than 80% of any group placing it in the top three most important items. Other options included the availability of masks for athletes and coaches, increased cleaning protocols for facilities and the resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.

Regarding state championships, all groups made it the least important priority out of eight in a section that also included unfunded state mandates, regular-season play and potential student absences among other issues to address.

The groups did disagree on a significant number of issues, though. One area that saw the largest divide between groups was whether or not interscholastic contests should be held if schools had not returned to in-person learning. More than 55% of the 4,532 coaches that responded “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that sports could begin without a return to in-person learning, while no other group saw more than 44% of respondents answer in those categories. Superintendents led the strongest opposition, with 82% saying they “disagree” or “strongly disagree.”

The release also said that on Friday, NYSPHSAA would release guidance regarding on-campus summer conditioning workouts and an update to its Frequently Asked Questions document, originally released May 7. The task force plans to meet again toward the end of June, per the release, with a date and time to be announced next week.

“We’re optimistic and I appreciate everyone’s patience,” Zayas said. “Our greatest challenge is being patient and waiting for things to develop.”

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