By Jordan Lauterbach
Long Island's governing bodies for public high school sports will not issue additional health and safety protocols when practices for fall sports begin on Monday and will let school districts decide on their own requirements, the executive directors of Nassau and Suffolk said Wednesday.
"We have no restrictions," Nassau’s Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli said. "We’re proceeding as normal. Any restrictions are strictly by the local schools."
Practices for football in Nassau begin Monday, while all other fall sports begin practice on Aug. 30, Pizzarelli said. Practices for all fall sports in Suffolk begin Monday, said Suffolk’s Section XI executive director Tom Combs.
"We get our guidelines from the Suffolk County Department of Health and the New York State Education Department," Combs said. "If they make a statement that mandates masks, then we will comply with that. But, we don’t make our own health and safety rules other than for heat alerts and things along those lines."
As of now, no such mandate has come down. The Suffolk County Department of Health has recommended that masks be worn indoors by students and faculty, Combs said. Combs added that COVID testing has not been mandated, as it was for high-risk sports in Suffolk last season. Nassau did not require athletes to be tested, but some school districts elected to require athletes be tested in order to compete.
Last week, the New York State Education Department issued recommendations for high-risk sports as part of its health and safety guidelines for re-opening schools in September. The guidelines said that "high-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or cancelled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are vaccinated."
Both Nassau and Suffolk are considered areas of high community spread, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Neither Pizzarelli nor Combs said they are aware of any districts that are cancelling high-risk sports, which the state identified as football, volleyball, and competitive cheerleading. Additionally, neither knew of any districts that are limiting participation to vaccinated athletes.
"They were recommendations and it’s up to each school district to do as they see fit," Combs said. "But, I have not been made aware of someone not doing something due to the high risk nature of the sport."
Hank Grishman, chairman of the Section VIII Superintendents Board and the Jericho School District superintendent, said Jericho did not consider cancelling high-risk sports despite the state’s recommendation.
"We’re feeling that, right now, our zip codes and school district is in a good place," Grishman said.
Grishman said that the district will require students to wear masks while in the locker room, on the bus, or participating in indoor sports, such as volleyball. Masks will not be required for outdoor sports, he said.
"That’s a decision that we’re making for Jericho," Grishman said. "Each other school district will make the decision based upon their own analysis of recommendations."
In the 2020-21 school year, both Section VIII and Section XI postponed sports during the fall because of the concerns about COVID-19 before playing three truncated seasons in the first six months of 2021. The undertaking on all involved was massive and Combs said he considered the results to be "very successful.