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Questions remain as possible fall season approaches

PLATTSBURGH — If anything is certain when it comes to sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty.

Section VII Executive Director Matt Walentuk wants one thing to be certain, however, as to if and when the fall sports season may begin.

“We want to be able to tell our student-athletes that we have evaluated the situation to the fullest and examined all scenarios,” Walentuk said in an interview with the Press-Republican.

“Whatever decision is made regarding sports is one we as Section VII will be good with. We have good people in the North Country, and we will make the right decision for us and our schools moving forward.”

LEFT TO DECIDE

In late August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead for certain fall sports to begin practice as well as play Sept. 21.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association developed a 41-page document titled “Return to Interscholastic Athletics 2020-2021” that was released Sept. 4 and disclosed guidelines for sports in the COVID-19 world.

Now, the 11 sections in NYSPHSAA are left to decide how to implement a potential fall season.

Certain sections have already opted to delay the fall season, but Section VII is still in its decision-making phase.

“Section VII is here to help,” Walentuk said. “We are not here to push one way or another. We want to make sure everyone is comfortable because these are uncomfortable times. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the next week or month. We are just here to keep the lines of communication open.”

NYSPHSAA’s guidance stated individual school districts have the authority and autonomy to administer their district’s athletic programs as they deem appropriate.

This means Section VII will continue to analyze various opportunities to potentially implement a fall season, but at any point, individual schools may decide to opt out of participating.

“It’s about constant communication with the school athletic directors, and I task them with keeping an open line of communication between themselves and their superintendents,” Walentuk said.

“That’s where Section VII will look to get the feedback from. We all have to work together and remain open with each other.”

‘ABLE TO GET A PULSE’

Since NYSPHSAA’s guidance was released, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas has held one-on-one meetings with various sections to allow time for further interpretation and questions to be answered.

Section VII was scheduled to be involved in one of these meetings Wednesday.

“It’s things like a meeting like this where you are able to get a pulse of what’s going on because things change by the day,” Walentuk said.

He elaborated and said the meeting with Zayas combined with how the initial start to school goes are all components that help bring the feasibility of sports to light.

“As each day passes, it’s going to be interesting to get feedback from schools who are starting their school years and see how it’s going,” Walentuk said.

ATHLETIC COUNCIL

As communication and meetings continue, the Section VII Athletic Council, comprised of officers as well as Champlain Valley and Mountain and Valley Athletic Conference representatives, planned to meet Thursday to discuss potential avenues for sports to begin.

Section VII, which is governed by the council, will rely on these meetings for further guidance.

“At this point, I don’t know if a determination will be made on the fall (season) from the Athletic Council,” Walentuk said. “Ultimately, everyone that is in a leadership position on the council, myself included, has a job to understand what is going on in our member schools.”

If there were to be a fall season, additional planning in many facets is expected by all in Section VII.

The risk-reward scenarios that come with starting a sports season as COVID-19 still remains a threat in the minds of many naturally creates hesitancy.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into sports,” Walentuk said. “There’s going to be so much more this year, and we just want to make sure we give the students our best effort and continue to move forward. If we have to make a decision one way or another, we will do so when we have given it proper thought and consideration.”

KEEPING STUDENT-

ATHLETES IN MIND

In accordance with NYSPHSAA, sports such as tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, gymnastics, golf and swimming may practice and play, effective Sept. 21.

These sports are deemed either low-risk or moderate-risk.

Sports considered higher-risk, including football, wrestling, rugby, hockey and volleyball may practice but not play until authorized at a later date, which will be no later than Dec. 31.

“At the end of the day, we are going to be turning over every stone and taking a look at the guidance and see how it can be implemented to see if we can give our student-athletes a chance to compete and participate in fall sports,” Walentuk said.

“That answer might just happen to be we can’t pull it off this season, but we first have to analyze the situation. Each school needs to make assessments before we just say yes or no to sports because there are a lot of things that need to happen.

“This is not the fall seasons of the past where you just show up with your fall clearance form and play.”

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