Play Ball! 2021 Fall Season Set to Get Underway

By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports  Editor @Directrays

So, it looks like local school districts are going to let our kids play ball – at least for now.

Byram Hills juniors Jesse Goldstein (7), Christian Bellantoni and the rest of Section 1 student-athletes are hoping for some form of normalcy in 2021.

A week after rendering some distressing guidance regarding COVID-19 and the Delta variant and the potential limitations of “high-risk” sports, the state Education Department’s counsel was met with pushback by some of the more local authorities, which seemed to indicate that sports in Section 1 would proceed as scheduled without much of the mask mandates we saw last March and April.

Monday was the day we’ve all been waiting/hoping for, for quite some time now, a quasi-normal start to the 2021 football, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, swimming, cheer and cross country seasons. The varsity and junior varsity squads were set to take the field yesterday for tryouts and/or practices across the board, and the usual suspects were lining up to take their rightful place in Section 1 history. There are some adjustments to deal with, but, for now, we’re in a much better place than we were at this time last fall.
“I am definitely jacked up to officially get going (Monday),” Lakeland boys’ soccer Coach Tim Hourahan said. “There are some minor tweaks to traditional training and game-day operations, but it is way better than last fall.”

Some school districts, like those in Yonkers, are mandating masks for their student-athletes at all indoor and outdoor sporting events, including their opponents. At this time, most other districts are allowing outdoor events to proceed without masks or fan limitations.

“At Lakeland, there are no masks needed to be worn outdoors,” said Hourahan. “We also do not have any spectator rules at this time for outdoor events and let us hope it stays that way.”

Volleyball players, and some other indoor sports, will have to wear a mask because school districts are mandating students to wear masks while in school. That makes sense since student-athletes cannot take the mask off when playing volleyball after school if they can’t take them off during the school day.

“Every school is going to have different rules, which will make it interesting,” said Section 1 boys’ soccer co-Chairman Matt Allen, the boys’ soccer coach at reigning regional champion Byram Hills. “Right now, Yonkers schools are masking up on outdoor fields, but they are the only ones that I know of. Should be a good year if COVID Delta can stay out of the way.”

Whether the Delta variant can stay out of the way is anything but a given. Whether it’s politically driven or not, cases are on the rise, said Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio, who noted we could find ourselves in an all-too-familiar scenario if we don’t adapt to rising cases.

“Unfortunately, our town has reached numbers that are both very depressing and alarming to me,” Oliverio said. “In Putnam County (as of 8/13) there are 86 new cases of this virus, almost all the new Delta variant. In our town, we make up almost a third of the cases within the county (28). One-third of these cases involve young people under the age of 20. I would hate to see our area go back to forced mask-wearing, remote work and/or schooling and increased quarantine tracing. But unless these numbers improve, we may very well find that those restrictions are reapplied in our county and our town once again.”

The underlying message is simple: We’re not past this pandemic yet, and things can turn on a dime if we don’t take the necessary precautions. I’m not here to offer advice but understand that your team’s season can end in the blink of an eye if you don’t take this seriously, whether you believe it or not. Every program is just one positive test away from a collapse, so proceed with caution.

I mean, just imagine you’re part of the Carmel football team, Somers soccer program or Lakeland field hockey this fall. Expectations are through the roof, right? One positive test and those championship dreams fizzle.

“We all understand that the situation is fluid, and we need to pivot when needed and remain flexible at all times,” Hendrick Hudson High Athletic Director Tommy Baker said. “Student-athletes were tremendous in following the protocols last year. The guidance districts utilized last year allowed our student-athletes to participate.

“This year, it is vital that we continue to follow any necessary protocols and guidance provided. All of the athletic directors I have communicated with are consistent in that there will continue to be protocols across the section. Last year was very rewarding for the athletes. I remain confident that with the proper planning, and cooperation from all parties, athletes can have the same rewarding experience this year.”

It won’t be 100 percent normal, gang, and we’re all heartbroken for the youngins we’re raising during this pandemic, but it’s better than it was at this time last year, so take the good with the bad and understand that life’s not fair and nobody knows that better than y’all.