Glens Falls City School District athletes will not be playing any winter sports at school this year.
Superintendent Paul Jenkins announced the decision Wednesday afternoon after consulting with coaches, county health officials, the district physician and others, he said.
Also Wednesday, Washington County announced that it is delaying any decision on allowing high-risk winter sports to proceed. The state had announced on Friday that it is leaving the decision to allow those sports — basketball, wrestling and ice hockey — up to local health departments.
The Washington County press release from Tim Hardy, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, said, “Based on the current status of COVID-19 in our communities and the dedicated work that our school administrators, staff and community members are doing to make every effort to continue keeping our schools operating with as much in-person instruction as possible, Washington County cannot soundly permit these ‘higher risk’ sports to proceed at this time.”
At Glens Falls, Jenkins “paused” winter sports just before Christmas after a sleepover party was hosted at a teacher’s house and led to at least 12 Warren County residents testing positive for coronavirus.
The decision Wednesday means that those teams — boys swimming, bowling, Nordic skiing and Alpine skiing — already underway will not return to practices or competitions. Their seasons have come to an end.
Also, basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and cheerleading teams will not start this year, even if Warren County Public Health officials decide to allow winter sports. The county is expected to make a decision this week.
Section II officials in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association on Tuesday announced that winter sports season would end on March 13, so time will become critical the longer there is a delay. The only sports currently allowed are low-risk: bowling, boys swimming and skiing.
“Suspending all athletics aligns with the district’s main focus right now: keeping our school buildings open for in-person instruction within the safety guidelines we have established,” Jenkins said in a statement.
He cited an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association about outbreaks connected to high school sports teams, as well as concerns about the highly contagious variant, which has been found in the area.
He also noted a Centers for Disease Control report about a high school wrestling tournament in Florida that became a superspreader event and led to 79 infections and one death.
“An estimated 1,700 in-person school days were lost as a consequence of isolation and quarantine of patients and contacts during this COVID-19 outbreak,” the CDC said.
Glens Falls Athletic Director Chip Corlew said the decision was hard, especially for seniors who won’t be able to play in their last high school season.
“That’s sad. It is totally sad. It breaks our heart,” he said. “Athletes are going to be upset and it does stink. It’s unfortunate. But safety is the utmost priority.”
He also acknowledged Jenkins had a point in saying that the district had to prioritize academics, and not risk an outbreak that could force schools to stop in-person classes.
“School buildings have to stay open,” he said.
And he said there was logic in not allowing higher-risk sports, in which athletes are within inches of each other.
“In physical education class we can only do (activities) 12 feet apart, but here we’re going to play close contact sports?” he said. “Our hope down the road is that maybe we can get to a point for spring sports. We just pray we can get these vaccines.”
Jenkins agreed that spring sports are still a possibility.
“We have a long tradition of successful athletic and extracurricular programs, and we want our students and community to understand this decision is based on the realities of our current public health emergency,” he said. “We are still hopeful and look forward to getting back to some of these student-based programs in the spring.”
Steve Nolan, the president of the Foothills Council, of which Glens Falls is a founding member, said the league will continue to adjust its plans to the challenges presented during the pandemic.
“We started putting plans in place (Tuesday), and now we have to adjust,” said Nolan, the athletic director at Amsterdam. “We anticipated individual schools possibly pulling out, we anticipated counties having different ideas. We as athletic directors and coaches are just looking to give some type of opportunity for the kids. We understand where Glens Falls is coming from, working with their medical professionals. These are very not-ordinary times.”
Nolan said that Warren, Albany and Rensselaer counties had issued a joint release that they would need to see a seven-day rolling average of 4% positive cases before they would allow high-risk sports. However, Warren County said it had not issued any such press release.
The Washington County decision delay affects the interscholastic sports for the following school districts: Hudson Falls, Argyle, Cambridge, Fort Ann, Fort Edward, Granville, Greenwich, Hartford and Whitehall. Those schools include members of three leagues — the Foothills Council, Adirondack League and Wasaren League — in Section II.
“It’s disappointing, but keeping everybody safe and healthy and getting kids back in school are priorities,” said Adirondack League president Dan Ward, the superintendent at Fort Edward.
Ward is still planning to meet on Thursday, “but the conversation will be different,” he said.
“Our league has (schools in) Washington, Warren and Saratoga counties, and we know in Washington County, high-risk sports are out for now,” Ward said. “I’ll be curious about what the rest of the counties say.”
Ward said he understands the county health departments are dealing with higher infection rates, hospitalizations and caseloads.
“What you want to see is a marked change in the correct direction in order to move ahead and make a decision,” he said. “It’s a challenge every day for all schools just getting kids in school. ... We’ll try to chart a path forward if we can.”
Last fall, the Adirondack and Wasaren Leagues chose to not play any sports, moving them all to the “Fall II season” designated by the state for March and April. The Foothills Council competed in cross country, golf and girls tennis, but moved moderate- and high-risk sports to Fall II, as well.
The Washington County press release concluded, “While we all wish for our communities and schools to resume some sense of normalcy, which includes our treasured sports programs, we are committed to continuing to work with our dedicated school leaders, medical oversight professionals, community leaders and neighboring county officials to identify the time frame these ‘higher risk’ sports can resume in a safe and responsible manner for everyone involved.”