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Cuomo gives go-ahead to some HS sports

Lake Placid’s Harley Cohen leads a pack of girls during a Champlain Valley Athletic Conference cross country home meet at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Oct. 1, 2019. (News photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday, Aug. 24 that some “lower-risk “sports will be able to proceed beginning on the Sept. 21 date that was already set, it gave hope that an abbreviated fall season may take place for some high school sports amid the coronavirus pandemic. But numerous questions need to be answered and steps have to be taken before that scenario could actually become a reality.

Cuomo said lower-risk sports such as soccer, cross country, swimming and tennis will be able to see competition this fall, but he kept playing football and volleyball on hold — currently limiting those higher-risk activities to practices only.

Schools in Section VII, which includes Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Keene and AuSable Valley, currently participate in five fall sports: soccer, cross country, football, volleyball and swimming. Nearby Tupper Lake is a Section X school that normally fields girls soccer and volleyball teams, boys and girls cross country, and eight-man football in a league with squads from Section III in Central New York.

Section VII Executive Director Matt Walentuk said Cuomo’s go-ahead is great news, but it “opens up the floodgates” for possible scenarios moving forward.

“The fact that he (Cuomo) confirmed that some of those sports are permitted to begin gives us a definite sense of optimism, but it also raises a lot of questions and concerns,” Walentuk said. “We’re not going to rush anything out there until we see more guidance from the governor’s office, the Department of Health, and we’re going to make sure the direction we are going in is in the best interest of the student-athletes.

“I am optimistic for up here,” Walentuk continued. “We have seen youth sports run successfully where there hasn’t been a major impact from the virus, but interscholastic sports comes with a whole new set of challenges. The No. 1 priority is getting schools up and running, and really, everything else is secondary. We can’t realistically make any other plans until we see what happens with the opening of schools.”

“I’m excited that our kids might have an opportunity to play,” said Eric Bennett, Saranac Lake’s director of athletics and the Red Storm’s varsity head football coach. “I just hope it comes to fruition. I’m sure whatever happens with the infection rate is going to play a major role in whatever happens.”

Although there is no definitive plan yet for playing high school sports this fall, Cuomo’s go-ahead has definitely put the wheels in motion.

“We shut ourselves down in March, and this is really the first direction we’ve gotten from the governor’s office since then,” Walentuk said. “Guidelines on the protocols on how these sports will take place, league meetings, getting feedback from individual schools, that’s all input that we have to have. Things can change instantly, and we’re going to need continuous dialogue between all involved.”

If fall sports are played among high schools in 2020, a march toward state titles won’t be one of the end goals. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has already ruled that regional and statewide playoff tournaments will not take place.

Longtime Lake Placid boys varsity soccer coach Stuart Hemsley said if the Blue Bombers do have a season, he expects to be there to lead the charge again. He stated that ideally, the less travel the better.

“I’d rather stay as local as possible,” Hemsley said. “I’d rather see AuSable Valley, Saranac Lake and Keene instead of almost going to Canada to face the NACs and the Chazys,” Hemsley said. “If there is no need to travel, than I’m thrilled not to be traveling. I’m much more concerned about safety than about who the opposition will be. But if we’re given a schedule, that’s the schedule we will play.”

Bennett said he’ll have a better idea how things will unfold as time passes, and added what happens this week will shed more light on moving forward. Today, the athletic directors in Section VII will meet, and on Friday, steps toward a possible fall season are expected be among the topics discussed when school district officials meet.

“There are so many unknowns at this time,” Bennett said.

“Being smart, being thoughtful, having patience and hope are the things that are going to get us through,” Walentuk added. “I look forward to the day when we have a better hold on this virus.”