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'High-Risk' High School Sports in Play Again in Suffolk

Mon, 01/25/2021 - 17:07
Pierson High School’s Henry Brooks in a showdown with Southold's Nick Grathwohl during the county Class C championship last February in East Hampton High School's gym.
Craig Macnaughton

High-risk high school sports including wrestling, basketball, and competitive cheerleading can resume again in Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday. 

This follows Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's announcement on Friday that high school athletes competing in sports deemed high-risk by the state could return to play with approval of local health departments. 

With that, Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in the county, got straight to work, and over the weekend "put together approximately 5,000 schedules that will enable our boys and girls basketball, our wrestling, and our competitive cheer teams to be able to participate at the high school level," the Section XI Athletics president, Tom Combs, said during a press conference with the county executive Monday. 

"Our schools are the places where our kids are safest, where the virus is spreading the least," Mr. Bellone said, crediting the leadership of superintendents, staff, and teachers for making that the case. 

Long Island's infection rate remains the highest in the state, with Suffolk reporting 1,419 new positive tests on Sunday, for a rate of 7.41 percent, and Nassau reporting 1,198 and a rate of 6.2 percent. Nevertheless, those numbers represent a decrease from earlier this month, when Suffolk reported over 2,000 new cases on four days and positive test rate as high as 11 percent.

Guidelines set up by the Suffolk County Health Department for high-risk sports will mandate that student athletes be tested for Covid-19 once a week. The rapid tests, which the county will provide to school districts, will be offered to students free of charge. Players and coaches will have their temperatures checked before practices and games and will be required to wear face masks whenever possible during practices and play. There is to be minimal sharing of equipment, and coaches will have to maintain attendance logs that can be used should contact-tracing be required in the event a player or coach is diagnosed with Covid-19. 

Outdoor play will be encouraged, and coaches will be asked to "consider dividing larger teams into smaller groups and stagger practices with different times or days," according to a release from the county executive's office. 

The county will open a number of its parks for cross-country meets. Among these will be Cedar Point County Park in East Hampton, Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, Cathedral Pines in Middle Island, and four others farther west.

Student-athletes will also be asked to take a Champion of the Community Pledge, promising to comply with all Covid-related safety protocols. 

Low-risk sports -- winter track, fencing, bowling, and swimming -- have already resumed, where possible, with a winter season running Jan. 4 through Feb. 27. Low-risk fall sports are to be played March 1 through April 25, and spring sports from April 26 to June 19. The season for high-risk winter sports will run from Monday, Feb. 1, through Feb. 27. 

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