The Pine Bush Bushmen were looking to defend their Section 9 Class AA football title this season, while the Newburgh Free Academy Goldbacks, and in Class B, the Marlboro Iron Dukes, were looking to regain the top spot.
However, recent rulings have put not only the fall 2020 football season, but also the volleyball season in doubt. Despite both sports being classified as high risk by the New York State Dept. of Health, New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas said on Sept. 1, that the state plans to keep both sports in the fall.
“The only way we can proceed is virtually,” Pine Bush football coach Jim Wright said. We’ve done everything virtually and we’ve gotten good responses from our kids doing it. It’s all academic. It’s all x’s and o’s.”
Both sports can begin practice on Sept. 21 with the other sports, but they cannot play any games until authorized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Under the regular schedule, the preseason was to begin on Aug. 24.
“It’s been a very strange offseason and very long with the fact that the dates keep getting bumped,” Newburgh Free Academy football coach Bill Bianco said. “While I understand the safety concerns, you have to put yourself in the kids’ shoes. While I understand erring on the side of caution, these kids have been waiting since March for Aug. 24 and then Sept. 21; you got them all excited and now it’s potentially bumped again.”
The NYSPHSAA was expected to release guidance regarding fall sports to school districts last Friday, but reports indicated that the document “had issues” and were delayed.
Marlboro football coach Brian Beck scheduled a mandatory Google Meet for his team on Friday, afternoon hoping to have some clarification for them, but there was no new information.
“The team was looking forward to an announcement and we didn’t have one for them,” Beck said. “We have to take that as ‘no news is good news.’ They just had some big issues in Connecticut (where the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced there will be no full-contact high-school football in the fall). I’ve talked to some old college roommates and those kids are heartbroken.”
Practices for these higher-risk sports are limited to individual or group practices, either no- to low-contact training.
“It’s near impossible to play the game of football that way,” Beck said. “We teach and install everything we need, but without contact, you can’t play the game of football and without contact, you can’t teach it as well.”
Volleyball was ruled to be a moderate-risk sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which governs the NYSPHSAA. The New York State Dept. of Health has deemed it a high-risk sport on Aug. 24.
“We were surprised to read that,” Wallkill volleyball coach Julie Michella said. “Now we’re just waiting to hear as of right now. They say we can practice, but we don’t know if we’re going to be able to play games or if they’re going to push us into the spring.”
Michella said her players, many of which lost their spring seasons, and some are seniors now, are concerned about losing their senior seasons. The Panthers are two-straight Mid-Hudson Athletic League champions and were Section 9 Class A finalists in 2019.
“I think they’re very concerned,” Michella said. “I know a lot of them lost spring softball and track seasons. I think, as far as their mental health goes, it’s hard for athletes to deal with it because they’re so used to the social interaction and to have sports. It’s been really hard on them.”
At this point, coaches are looking for clarity and admit it could be difficult, especially for football, to get a full season in with the time they have. Football players will need to complete 12 practices before playing in a game, which means they can’t play until after the third week, which would mean starting no earlier than Oct. 9 if authorized.
According to the guidance document released Friday, the NYSPHSAA is seeking further clarification for high-risk sports.
“We’ve been told to stay virtual and that’s what we’re doing,” Wright said. “Would I like to have us getting together? Yes, but that’s not my decision, and to be honest, I’m glad I’m not making that decision.”
Zayas said that any authorization would have to come from the governor’s office, and if some schools and sections decide they want to play football in the spring, they can do that.
Beck said at this point, that could be the best thing for the sport.
“I just want a decision so we can plan accordingly,” Bianco said. “I just wish they’d make a decision either way and live with it.”