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Let the games begin: High-risk high school sports guidelines issued

Individual districts can decide on Covid testing, spectators

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Less than a week after high-risk high school sports in New York State such as basketball, football, wrestling, volleyball and competitive cheer were given the green light to proceed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran relayed the necessary guidance put in place by the state and approved by local health officials.

At a press conference held Wednesday morning at Bay Park in East Rockaway, Curran announced the high-risk sports guidelines that once met will clear the way for public and parochial schools to begin practice for basketball, wrestling and cheer on Feb. 1, and conduct games as soon as Feb. 8.

“I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and the rinks they love so much and to bring a little normal back into their lives,” Curran said.

Some of the mandatory guidelines put in place countywide by Suffolk aren’t being mirrored by Nassau. Instead, those decisions have been put in the hands of individual school districts in Nassau. These include weekly Covid-19 testing for participating athletes, coaches and others in daily contact with the teams, temperature monitoring before practices and games, and no more than two spectators per student-athlete.

Masks must be worn at all times, unless players are unable to tolerate such a covering for the physical activity, and a minimum of 6 feet in distance between individuals must be followed at all times, with the exception of participating athletes. No sharing of equipment or drinks will be permitted, and facilities must provide sanitizer for all in attendance and be limited to 50% of the maximum occupancy of a particular area, inclusive of employees, patrons, players and spectators.

Curran said the Nassau County Department of Health will conduct spot compliance checks at random schools.

On Tuesday, Nassau’s athletic directors held a meeting in conjunction with Section VIII, the governing body for high school athletics in the county, to discuss a return to play for basketball, wrestling and cheer. Section VIII also conducted a conference call with school superintendents that same morning.

Section VIII Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli said with student-athletes’ participation the primary goal to accomplish this winter, there will be no playoffs for basketball and no postseason for wrestling. Basketball teams will play an 8-game season, while wrestling will conduct dual meets only.

“We want the largest number of kids playing in the most number of games, and this was the way to do it,” Pizzarelli said.

Baldwin has already decided to have all high-risk athletes tested weekly and will not be permitting spectators, Athletic Director Ed Ramirez said. The district is planning to livestream basketball games and wrestling matches. “I am excited to see our winter student athletes, especially our seniors, back competing,” Ramirez said. “Although they will not get the full experience, they have an opportunity to represent their school one last time, be with their teammates and enjoy their passion.”

The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District doesn’t plan on mandated testing, Athletic Director Eric Caballero said. It will allow two spectators per home athlete with no fans from visiting teams permitted. The Sewanhaka Central High School District is following that same criteria for testing and spectators, said Athletic Director Matt McLees.

The Valley Stream Central High School District won’t be allowing fans for basketball and wrestling, but Athletic Director Scott Steuber said the topic will be revisited for sports set to begin March 1 such as football, soccer, volleyball and field hockey.

“I’m thrilled that we’re going to be starting all of our sports,” Pizzarelli said. “We haven’t had any Covid spread with the sports that began Jan. 4. Now we’re starting basketball and wrestling. I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about wrestling. I spoke to our athletic administrators. They need to stress to their coaches they need to be diligent in keeping the safety of our student athletes as the No. 1 priority, which is what we always do in athletics.”

Pizzarelli added each school district will make a determination whether to compete in the high-risk winter sports or not. He said only Uniondale, which is in full remote learning mode, and Great Neck, opted out so far. Lawrence flipped its decision on winter sports and will be competing.Traditional fall sports, including football, soccer, girls’ tennis, cross-country, volleyball, field hockey, and girls’ swimming, are slated to begin practice March 1. Spring sports, such as lacrosse, baseball, softball, boys’ tennis, track and field, girls’ badminton and boys’ golf, is set to start April 22.