‘Play ball’: Nassau County backs playing high-risk sports

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A play at Sewanhaka High School's 2019 Homecoming game. Football has been recognized as one of numerous "high-risk" sports which have been reauthorized by the state. (Photo courtesy of the Sewanhaka Central High School District)

Nassau County announced that it will support the playing of high-risk high school sports on the same day the state said that it would reauthorize the playing of such sports beginning Feb. 1.

Guidelines from the New York Department of Health issued on Jan. 21 listed these sports as high risk: basketball, boys lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, football, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling.

Last month the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced that high-risk sports across all seasons would be postponed until reauthorized by the state, delaying the scheduled start of the high-risk winter sports.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who had supported playing sports during the pandemic, said in a statement on Friday that she had directed the county Health Department to work with school districts “to safely resume school sports according to [state] guidance.”

“As Nassau County Executive, I’ve continued to advocate for the safe resumption of organized sports, as well as for keeping our businesses and schools open,” Curran said. “For many, school sports are a path to promising academic and career opportunities. I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts, and ice rinks they love so much. Let’s play ball!”

“Effective February 1, 2021, participants in higher-risk sports and recreation 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),” the guidelines state.

The state also advises local health authorities to consider local rates of infection and local abilities to monitor and enforce compliance when it comes to reauthorization. While competitions and tournaments will be allowed, travel for practice or play will be prohibited “outside of the region or contiguous counties,” the guidelines say, with interstate travel for practice or play strongly discouraged.

The move comes four months after a Nassau County Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit from the Massapequa school district against the county over the cancellation of sports for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year.

State Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) had supported legislation to allow full-contact sports to return in the past.

“Today’s announcement from the administration clears the path for our kids to get back on the court, back on the field, and back on the ice,” Ra said in a statement. “I’m heartened to see the governor respond to our bipartisan push to get scholastic sports back. It will be critical for our local health departments statewide to collaborate with school athletics officials to implement the right health and safety protocols. Our kids and their coaches deserve a smooth, safe, coordinated transition back to gameplay. I’m so relieved student-athletes in my community will be able to rejoin their teammates and make memories they’ll never forget.”

Plans from the state called for a year’s worth of high school athletics to be condensed to six months. Low-to-medium risk winter sports began Jan. 4, including men’s swimming and diving, bowling, wrestling, gymnastics, and dance/kickline.

Fall sports were to start on March 1, including football, soccer, girls tennis, cross-country running, volleyball, sideline cheerleading, dance/kickline team, field hockey, and girls swimming and diving; and all spring sports would start on April 22, including lacrosse, baseball, softball, boys tennis, track and field, girls badminton and boys golf.

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