September 25, 2022

Fall sports are a go to start Monday, maybe with masks

It was only four months ago that Southold was playing for a championship during the…

High school fall sports in Suffolk County, scheduled to begin practices Monday, are a go. Aside from the possibility of athletes for indoor sports such as volleyball and gymnastics being asked to wear masks, no restrictions are being placed by Section XI, Suffolk’s governing body for interscholastic sports.

Section XI executive director Tom Combs said of masks for indoor sports, “We have it from a pretty good source that’s going to probably become a mandate.”

“We follow whatever the state ed and the [Suffolk County] Department of Health tells us to do so, for instance, the department of health’s recommendation is masks indoors, masks on buses, so you know, we’ll have to follow those, just like the students in the classroom,” he said. “Athletics is an extension of the classroom, so if we’re indoors, say if we have volleyball and we have gymnastics indoors, they will have to wear masks.”

The New York State Education Department, in guidance issued Aug. 12 for the reopening of schools, recommended that “high-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated.”

The state classifies football, competitive cheerleading and volleyball as high-risk sports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Suffolk as having a high level of community transmission.

“They recommended it doing virtual, which is not a possibility,” Combs said. “Again, the recommendations are in the name of safety. We all understand that, but it’s not a possibility to play a virtual football game or a virtual volleyball game.”

Combs, who in a Newsday interview noted that Section XI does not make its own health and safety rules other than for heat alerts and the like, said he was unaware of any individual Suffolk school districts that have canceled any sports or required athletes to be vaccinated.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Suffolk postponed sports in the fall of 2020 and played three condensed sports seasons (winter, fall, spring) in the first six months of 2021.

Combs said: “We were very ecstatic that we were able to have those three seasons. So, we proved that we could do it and we want to have that opportunity again.”

Spectators weren’t allowed and masks were required in the winter season. In the fall season, limited spectators were permitted, with masks still required. The spring season was fully opened to spectators without the masking requirement.

“In our past spring season we just completed, we were able to open with no masks, spectators were permitted and everything like that,” Combs said. “It was a normal season, which we were very, very appreciative of. As far as this coming [fall season], it’s all going to depend on how the numbers go with cases of COVID. If they keep rising, then we’re going to have to do something for the public health of everybody. If it stays constant and it doesn’t rise, then I think that we’ll be able to stay as normal. That’s really all we want is for the kids to be able to get out there, just to compete against one another.”

The pandemic has served as a reminder of how important sports are to some people.

“We have over 60,000 student-athletes in Suffolk County, and I think every one of them was just happy to be able to get out and do something and compete,” Combs said. “It’s a part of who we are and it’s all part of the culture of the educational system of the United States, and you took away a big piece of it and some kids were lost.”

Asked if he had any concerns heading into the fall, Combs answered: “There’s a health and safety factor, that’s all. That’s my only concern. We hope that people are doing the right things and we’re not going to spread the variant. You don’t want to take opportunities away from the kids. We want to do what we have to do to be able to play. If that’s to wear a mask, so be it. That’s my opinion, but I think we’ll do anything to let the kids who worked so hard at this to be able to go up there and play all the sports.”