BH-BL will join other area districts, such as Niskayuna, Shenendehowa, Ballston Spa, and Saratoga, to name a few, in allowing student athletes to compete in wrestling competitions as part of the condensed winter athletic season. Earlier this month districts were given the ‘go ahead’ by Governor Andrew Cuomo to begin offering high-risk winter sports as long as local health departments approved their sports safety plans that have also been endorsed by districts’ medical directors.
In early February, BH-BL Athletic Director Joe Scalise presented the board with a “Return to Play” plan that outlined precautions and safety guidelines for coaches and student athletes to follow in order to resume “high-risk” winter sports. At that time the plan, which was unanimously approved by the board, did not include resuming wrestling. Since then a detailed in-house wrestling plan was shared with Dr. Sipperly for his assessment and endorsement, which was given with the instruction that if COVID cases rise among wrestlers the sport should be discontinued.
“Coach Jones has planned to conduct the shortened wrestling season for approximately 30 wrestlers with safety being the first priority,” explains Scalise. “Among other things, it includes allowing athletes to practice with only one partner; being in close contact with as few as one competitor at a match; wearing a specially designed mask beneath the standard headgear; taking advantage of the high-quality ventilation system in our new wrestling room; and continuously using hospital-grade disinfectants on mats and other frequently touched areas. Although wrestling certainly involves close contact, the number of individuals any given wrestler is in close proximity to on a given day will actually be less than in other ‘high risk’ sports like basketball and hockey.”
The wrestling plan will be on the Feb. 16 board agenda for official approval, but all seven members are expected to support resuming wrestling competitions. As discussed at the Feb. 1 meeting, the board fully supports resuming as many student-center activities as possible within the purview of the state.
“When districts are given the opportunity to resume an activity that’s been on hold due to the pandemic we consider carefully the effect of the decision on the physical, psychological, and emotional health of our students,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “It’s a balancing act for sure, but each careful and cautious step taken moves us closer to getting things back to normal for our students.”
Many parents have asked why high-risk sports were given new attention and updated guidance by the state while the guidance governing day-to-day school attendance and other extra curricular activities has not been changed?
School districts have not been informed as to why the state hasn’t revisited guidance governing the school environment yet, but the willingness of the Department of Health to review and update policy on sports, travel, and quarantine based upon recent developments provides encouragement that revisions to guidance for day-to-day building level operation may be forthcoming. Just as with athletics, BH-BL school leaders are willing and eager to revise safety plans for any school-based activity or events addressed by new health department guidance.
“We absolutely want to give our students as many opportunities this year as in past years but we must abide by the state’s medical guidance,” says McGrath. “As soon as we are given the green light to resume other student-centered activities we will move forward. Specifically, the requirement for 6-foot social distancing and/or barriers in classrooms and common spaces presents difficulty in returning to more normal day-to-day operations.”
While school leaders eagerly await such guidance from state and local Department of Health officials, BH-BL school clubs, concerts, drama performances, public meetings, and other events continue to be held to the greatest extent possible under the current guidelines.