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NYS gives thumbs up to high-risk sports, which can begin activity Feb. 1 with approval of health authorities

In a school year that has seen precious few good days for high school athletes, Friday was a great day.

High-risk sports in New York State have been given the go-ahead.

High-risk sports have been authorized by the state Department of Health to begin practice and competition on Feb. 1 if permitted by local health authorities, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced Friday.

The high-risk sports of basketball, boys lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, football, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling had been postponed indefinitely.

“From a parent perspective, this is great news,” NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas said during a hastily arranged Zoom news conference Friday night. “From an executive director of the state high school athletic association perspective, this is great news, but it’s phenomenal news for our student-athletes.”

For the first time in over nine months since high school sports were shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Long Island public schools returned to sports action with low- and moderate-risk winter sports beginning practice Jan. 4. Those seasons have begun.

The NYSPHSAA released a document Friday afternoon that states: “Effective February 1, 2021, participants in higher risk sports and recreational activities may partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training and, further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments, only as permitted by the respective local health authorities (i.e., county health departments).”

Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, Suffolk County’s interscholastic sports governing body, was not available Friday night. He had told Newsday: “I’m cautiously optimistic that we will be playing what was determined to be high-risk sports [on] Feb. 1. This is an outstanding step in the right direction for our student-athletes. It looks like there is a path to play pending the approval of the Suffolk County Department of Health.”

Nassau and Suffolk County public schools opted not to play last fall. Instead, they formulated compressed versions of all three of their sports seasons (each about eight weeks in length) in 2021. Winter sports run in January and February, with fall sports in March and April and spring sports in May and June.

Dr. Zayas said each of the state’s 11 sections could set end dates for their seasons, meaning it would be possible for seasons to overlap. Other questions remain to be answered, but those were matters for another day.

“What we’re looking at right now is we received authorization today to provide an additional approximately two hundred thousand athletes the opportunity to participate in their sport, and that’s exciting news,” Dr. Zayas said, “but we’re going to have condensed seasons and we’re going to have some challenges and obstacles to overcome, but more than anything else, I’m excited for those student-athletes tonight that were given news today that they’ve been waiting on, that’s going to give them an opportunity to represent their school, to represent their community, and to wear their jersey to participate in their sport with their friends under the direct supervision of their school board-approved coach.”

Chris Watson, NYSPHSAA’s director of communications, said he was seeing a lot of hearts and thumbs-up emojis from student-athletes on social media.

“I don’t want to say that they lost hope, but it was certainly fading, and those kids are certainly feeling better about things tonight and that’s the nicest thing to see on our part,” he said. “We waited a long time for an announcement like this.”