Sports programs at Sewanhaka Central High School District schools are adjusting to the in-school mask mandate recently imposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“We’ve been down the road of having Covid underway and still being able to play athletics,” said Matt McLees, the district’s athletic director. “… It’s nothing new for us.”
Masks are required indoors this school year, and Hochul’s mandate encompasses indoor sports as well. In Sewanhaka schools, it will primarily affect students who play volleyball as well as other indoor sports such as basketball, McLees said, noting that outdoors sports outnumber those played indoors.
The district, he said, plans to continue enforcing social distancing measures, and stressing their importance to students. “We will continue to try to maintain social distance when possible and have it in the back of everybody’s mind,” McLees said, “but there is no concrete rule or mandate for outside.”
He pointed out that mask-wearing is required by the new policy “as tolerated,” meaning that students are allowed to remove their masks while playing if they choose to.
Before Hochul issued the order, McLees said, district sports programs were planning to slowly move away from coronavirus restrictions. “We wanted to explore and move in the direction of not being as restrictive,” he said. Now, however, “Everything that was on the table is now off the table.”
Though they were not expected change, McLees said he was not concerned about student compliance with the new mask-wearing rules. “Our kids have been terrific with it,” he said of previous pandemic guidelines. He also complimented the district’s student athletes for limiting extracurricular social gatherings, which, he said, are often responsible for transmission of the virus.
Indeed, according to data released recently by the NFL and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Shared transportation and meals were the most common causes of the virus spreading among sports teams,” The New York Times reported.
McLees said he understood the expectation that there would be an uptick in coronavirus cases this fall as students return to school, and school sports. The CDC has called for the cancellation of school sports in communities with high levels of transmission of the virus. “High-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated,” the agency wrote in “Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools,” released in August.
Even in communities with lower numbers of coronavirus cases and rates of transmission, the CDC called for weekly screening and testing.
“It’s my hope and expectation that that will not be the case,” McLees said of the potential for rising case numbers in the fall. He emphasized that infected students will be required to quarantine for up to 10 days, which would be unfortunate for student athletes, who have been looking forward to getting back on the fields and courts after the pandemic shut down school sports in 2020-21.
As far back as January, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran made it clear that she identified with them. “I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and the rinks they love so much,” she said then, “and to bring a little normal back into their lives.”
Pandemic restrictions necessitated a truncated and condensed school sports calendar: In January, the Sewanhaka district held a winter “season” for basketball; fall sports took place in March and April, and spring sports in May and June.
McLees emphasized the impact the pandemic had on seniors in 2020-21, and will possibly have this year as well. “We’re different,” he said of coaches and athletic directors, “because we have next year, we have the year after that …” But for those who are graduating, he said, “This is it for them. It’s imperative that we make every effort to get them on the court and field and playing as much as possible with as limited restrictions as possible, because this is their only time — they don’t get another opportunity.”
And following safety protocols, McLees said, is essential in order for this to happen. “We want to get beyond this — at some point, this is going to be over,” he said. “We want to move as … quickly as we can for the sake of these kids. We’re thinking positively, and moving forward in that direction."