New York is still living in unprecedented times, even as Governor Cuomo has begun pressure local legislatures to return to in-person, 5-day instruction. However, on the athletic front, don't expect things to be snapping back to normalcy anytime soon.
The Empire State's High School Athletics Organization employs one of the most unique setups in the country. NYSPHSAA overlooks everything statewide and provides guidance whenever possible, but defers many of the final decisions to the individual Sections, which allows the different regions of New York to create hyper-localized approaches to how their member schools handle athletics. This has created great variability across the State as we move towards Fall II, a 'first of it's kind' athletic Season to make up for the lost "High-Risk Sports" of the Fall. Starting on March 1st, and allowing for a student to compete in 4 different sports in a single season, it's creating big variability in the approaches across the State.
We'll take a look at four of those approaches by looking at the publicly available data, and then explore what happens when the State comes together to kick off Outdoor Track.
Note: Information is rapidly changing. See anything that needs editing? Shoot us an email to let us know.
For some Sections, they are looking at the March 1st deadline, and moving right past it. Both the CHSAA and Section 5, the only Sections who have had what might be considered a "Full Season," will conclude with the only Sectional Championships in the State. Section 5 will look to hold their championships March 4th thru the 7th. They've managed to utilize Pinnacle Sports Dome, an enclosed turf field which has been able to support a fully coned out track, as well as High Jump and Shot Put.
The CHSAA has seen a much closer view of the sport than most, utilizing the Ocean Breeze Athletic Facility whenever possible. While it may not look exactly the same, the CHSAA will host a culminating event on March 6th and 7th, before moving immediately on to Spring Track the following week. The move provides continuity to the only Section that has been able to train consistently in the unprecedented times. They were also able to maintain racing at VCP in the fall, with an Intersectional Championship there as well, the State's only State Championship in any sport this year.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some Section's are looking at a blackout period for competition. Section 1 & 2 will have all competitions end on March 1st. Section 1 will return at the start of Spring Sports on April 19th, while Section 2 will defer a week later to May 1st.
Depending on the district, athletes will be able to train in the blackout months. Others will have to revert back to Track Clubs, or moving on to the other sport offerings for that mini-Season. One of the biggest issues here, is the question of coaching pay, and the district-by-district approach. Can districts reallocate budgets for four seasons? Will they pay for a coach of a team without planned competition?
The questions create more roadblocks for those athletes looking for continuity, as Track & Field sees the highest retention rate of athletes from Indoor to Outdoor Track of any of the sport offerings.
It would mean any of the competitions looking to be held during that March 1st through April 19th period will have to USATF Club or Unattached, with a higher incentive for those upper echelon athletes to travel out-of-state to maintain fitness and gain attention for College Scholarships.
Of note, the PSAL has had no sports for the entire year, and all signs are pointing for that blackout to continue into Spring, unless news breaks otherwise in the coming weeks.
For Long Island's Section 8 and 11, March 1st will mark the return of Cross Country. The two most populous Sections in the State deferred Cross Country last fall, along with all other sports. That means Fall II will include XC, although expect it to look a little different. Sunken Meadow State Park is not accepting competition due to its' nature as a State Park, so new courses will need to be mapped out amidst the snow. However, Long Island has been well prepped, as they have been hosting Polar Bear Dual Meets in Winter Track, all Outdoors in the cold.
While this approach is great for distance runners, it creates an interesting situation for other events. Could we see an influx of Shot Putters on the Cross Country team? Will XC turn back the clock a full century, and implement hurdling into their regimen? Surely, there will be some overlap.
However, because all sports will be delayed, those in Soccer and Football programs will have to choose whether to opt for their traditional Fall Sport, or to maintain their Track fitness straight into Spring Track's return. As for the XC Team, will the focus be on the 5000m, or those valuable 4x800m relay slots? Coaches will be looking for creative solutions over the next few months.
Section 9 also deferred their XC Season, and will presumably follow this plan.
Section 3 is looking at the final approach, although this one is falling to the individual leagues, rather than an overarching Sectional policy. Section 3 was the first Section in New York to outright cancel Indoor Track, due to the lack of facilities rather than any other factor. That means that the Coaching Pay allocated for that Season was unused, and athlete eligibility for an Indoor Track Season is still available.
Proposals have been examined from both the East Side and West Side of Section 3 to run a Polar Bear-version of Indoor Track during the Fall II Season. Whether that would mean dual meets between teams within a league, or a more virtual-type competition, it would allow the Central Section to get a jump start on the Spring Season.
However, there are still plenty of hurdles to those plans. Being Upstate, weather and snowfall are always major roadblocks, as well as the question of travel. Cross Country bussing was possible due to the smaller number of participants, but with Track teams being closer to 100 athletes for the larger schools, it could create a logistical nightmare maintaining 6-Feet of separation.
A Different Look To Spring Track
The first time New York looks to (hopefully) back on the same page will be the start of Spring Track. The warm weather, and increased vaccine rollout, will allow the gradual return to a sense of familiarity.
But don't expect things to look exactly as they were before. NYSPHSAA already has canceled the Spring State Championships, citing the risk of hotel rooms and travel as key issues that simply couldn't be safely addressed.
Large-scale Invitationals are also looking at how to adapt in the newer age. The Loucks Games, the largest Invite in the State, is looking at options that will limit the meet to only those Schools in Section 1 and 9. The New York Relays, which typically happens in mid-April, will have to reschedule completely, as that is before the State is even allowed to compete.
And then there is Penn Relays. New York is the second largest participating State to the HS portion of the event. However, with the Season kicking off on April 19th, there is no way New York HS's can get the required number of practices before their first competition, let alone hit the qualifying times need for Invitational Events. Even then, Penn Relays will spending the next two weeks gauging the feasibility of the event, after the Ivy League canceled all Spring Sports Seasons for the second straight year.
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The news isn't all bad. With the cancelation of the Spring State Champs, it allows for a longer participatory Season. If States remained, State Quals and Sectionals would have happened in late May, and with the 10-day required practice period before competition, it would only allow 2 weeks for Invites that include those athletes unable to meet the high standards at Sectionals. But now, competition is allowed to push into June, and if regents are canceled, even further than that. It opens Spring Track for more athletes, for a longer period of time.
The Fall Season saw the rise of a Club XC State Meet with the 12thRock Northeast Cross Country Club Championships, and there will surely be another look at that model in the Spring. Already, the USATF organization has created the Empire State Classic, a culminating State Meet to be held at SUNY Cortland on July 24th, however it includes athletes 15 and up, including the College and Masters population. The individual USATF Organizations (NY, LI, Adirondack, Niagara) will have qualifiers for that event sometime in late June.
And while New Balance Outdoor Nationals has not currently commented on whether they are being planned for or not, more Invites are sure to pop up to aide those in need of one last competition this Spring/Summer.
All in an effort to return to normal in the Fall of 2021.