Snubbed coaches take reopening in stride

JARED BOMBA | The Daily StarIn this Sept. 14, 2019, file photo, Sidney’s Zach Harrington bursts through the line during a game against Unatego at Sidney.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing Monday, Aug. 24, that most sports would be permitted to begin practicing and playing games Sept. 21, it was a pretty good day for those involved in the local high school sports scene, which has been completely shut down since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exceptions may have been those involved in area football and volleyball programs, as the governor’s announcement included word that those sports would be permitted to practice as of Sept. 21, but that there would be no competitions until at least Dec. 31.

Still, area football and volleyball coaches were ready to look at the positives rather than dwell on the negatives of Monday’s announcement.

“I’m just glad we’re going to be able to do something. Something is better than nothing,” Walton volleyball coach Robin Gray said.

More questions than answers remain regarding what exactly a fall season could end up looking like. With more specific guidance set to come from NYSPHSAA later this week, coaches often could not say for certain what the season will look like even among the sports that are slated to be practice-only. Everything from flag football to full-contact practices later in the fall remain as possibilities.

Nonetheless, optimism and excitement for whatever activities are permitted remained the theme.

“Well, to be honest, being told there is talk of practice, I think I got a little bit of hope that we can start doing some in-person activities,” first-year Oneonta football coach Will Neale said. “You wish they would just say we are good to go, but we are hopeful.”

“I think this was expected, we kind of saw it coming. But any opportunity to get back in the gym would be awesome, so even if we just practice that would be great,” Oneonta volleyball coach Lee Ferrara said.

Cuomo’s move to permit the start of some sports does not translate to certainty about how NYSPHSAA will move forward. One contingency plan NYSPHSAA had announced included three seasons packed into the 2021 calendar year, and some are hoping a version of that plan may still allow competitive volleyball and football this academic year.

“For us, I’m still optimistic. They didn’t say we aren’t having a season,” Sidney football coach Jeff Matthews said. “Hopefully somewhere down the line they will allow us to get on the field and play some games.”

Several coaches noted that their athletes will likely crave some form of competitive action. Even if competitive games do not come to fruition, expect coaches and players to use any opportunities available to prepare for upcoming seasons.

“The thing is, I’m starting all over this year,” Gray said, noting a young roster. “I’ll really be teaching anyway, so it really just gets them ready to learn the varsity-level rotations and it gives us more time.”

“A lot of my athletes go on to play at the collegiate level one way or another, so even if we don’t get to play, a season of practice would help them prepare for that,” Ferrara said.

Uncertainties will remain at least until, and likely after, more guidance comes from NYSPHSAA. But with coaches even in the hardest-hit sports looking at the bright side, Monday’s announcement is a step closer to the return of high school sports.

“I’ve always been a glass half-full guy so until they say we aren’t going to play in the fall or in the spring, I’ve always thought at some point we will get a season in,” Matthews said. “That keeps me going and the seniors to be going.”

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