Fall sports at Oneonta High School have officially fallen by the wayside. For now.
Oneonta City School District Superintendent Thomas Brindley announced Thursday, Sept. 4, that the district was postponing its fall interscholastic athletics season until the new year.
“Mr. (Jerry) Mackey, our Athletic Director, and I have listened, spoken with, or read a host of information and resources and albeit unfortunate, this decision is the one that keeps our students, their families, our coaches, and those with whom we compete against safer,” Brindley said in a statement posted to the district’s website and social media channels.
Mackey, who also coaches the OHS girls soccer team, called the decision “gut-wrenching.”
“Unfortunately, sometimes you have to make decisions that you feel are in the best interests of your student-athletes, as well as support staff, bus drivers and custodians,” Mackey said, noting that the school’s administration includes several people that were or remain involved in athletics. “We just know right now there are too many unknowns for us to offer it.”
In the release, Brindley said the decision was made “for a host of reasons,” later citing deficits between the 12-foot social distancing required for some activities with the inherent lack of distancing in some sports.
Mackey offered several other factors beyond concerns about containing the spread of the virus and inconsistencies in distancing guidelines. He mentioned difficulties surrounding the transportation of student-athletes, the role of game officials and the school’s geographic distance from its competitors in the Southern Tier Athletic League, among others.
The COVID-19 outbreak at SUNY Oneonta also played a role in the decision, though Brindley and Mackey both said it was not the sole motivator.
“I’m not going to pretend the situation in the city and outskirts area of Oneonta didn’t factor in, but I want to be really clear that I would have made this same decision if there were zero cases at Oneonta State,” Mackey said. “We are not laying this at their feet.”
As for the timing of the decision, Mackey stressed that the Sept. 21 start date for most fall sports permitted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was an “arbitrary” date determined during the summer to buy schools more time to prepare for potentially having fall seasons. He noted that school-sponsored teams are subject to different guidance than the club teams that had been able to resume playing during the summer, and reiterated that there were “still too many unanswered questions” as that date approached.
The move came the day before the New York State Public High School Athletic Association is expected to release full guidance for schools considering whether or not to sponsor a fall sports season.
“We didn’t want to give any kids, parents or coaches false hopes if it wasn’t feasible for us,” Mackey said. “I don’t want to virtue signal, and for other schools it might be feasible. But we made the decision for Oneonta City School District students, coaches, parents and staff.”
The announcement, which went public at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, made Oneonta the first of Section IV’s 70 school districts to postpone its fall sports season. League rival Norwich made a similar announcement Thursday afternoon that it was also postponing.
Sections are expected to begin making decisions about how fall seasons could progress after NYSPHSAA releases its guidance. If Section IV decides to have a fall season and the STAC also goes ahead, Oneonta will withdraw from the competition for the season.
Mackey said the goal is for the fall sports to be played in the March-April slot of a previous option from NYSPHSAA that put all three seasons into the first six months of 2021. Thursday’s announcement does not address the winter season, which earlier this week was pushed back from Nov. 16 to Nov. 30 by NYSPHSAA.