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Game On

Section VI Moving Forward With Fall Sports

High school soccer players, including Maple Grove’s RJ Helt, will be able to return to the pitch Monday. P-J file photo

Coaches, parents and athletes can rest easy, high school fall sports are officially back in Section VI.

The section’s Athletic Council on Wednesday accepted the results of a formal post-card ballot that went out to its membership, and will move forward with fall sports.

“It was overwhelming,” Section VI Executive Director Timm Slade said of the desire of districts to participate. “We weren’t sure it would be. A lot of people are all over the board and have different issues among their schools.

“We were hopeful that we could give an opportunity to member schools to participate if they preferred,” Slade added.

Over 70 districts submitted votes through the ballot process with 67 pledging their support for Monday’s start date.

“The post-card ballot is a part of our Constitution and provides us with an avenue to do business,” Section VI President Brett Banker said. “The procedure allows for consistent messaging and decision-making from across our section and the results speak for themselves.”

The ballots were sent to superintendents, athletic directors and high school principals.

“I think everyone wants to see some level of normalcy for our kids,” said Southwestern superintendent Maureen Donahue, Section VI Athletic Council president-elect. “I keep saying we have to open up school first safely, and then try to see if we can get athletics opened up safely.”

“I am so excited to offer our students the opportunity to participate in sports in the safest manner possible,” added Tiffany Frederes, Frewsburg principal. “I am so thankful to the students and parents for following all of our new guidelines as we opened school this fall, and am hopeful that the addition of these activities will provide the whole school experience for our students and their families.”

Per the Return to Interscholastic Athletics document circulated by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, on Monday local schools are allowed to move forward in cross country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, soccer, girls swimming and girls tennis.

“We want to provide as many opportunities as are allowed by state officials,” Slade said. “Section VI will work in accordance with those guidelines and, hopefully, be able to offer more as we work our way through the school year.”

Higher-risk fall sports — competitive cheerleading, football and volleyball — had already been shifted to a March 1 start date.

“It remains the right of each district and league to engage in their own decision-making process and commit to all of the allowable sports, some selected sports or even none,” Banker said. “Each district will make the appropriate decision for their communities. We respect the position each district must take. Now it’s incumbent on all of us; athletic directors, coaches, athletes and families to do all we can to follow protocols and attempt to limit exposure.”

The decision to play this fall didn’t seem like a slam dunk locally, even as late as Tuesday when Section IV (Binghamton area) and leagues in Section II (Albany area) began postponing all fall sports to the spring. Buffalo Public Schools followed suit, but the majority of Section VI pressed forward.

“Going into (Wednesday), I had a high level of concern doing the four sports that we offer,” Fredonia athletic director Greg Lauer said. “We have concerns with transportation and health and safety, but I think we’ve developed a pretty good plan.”

Fredonia’s students in the upper grade levels are attending school remotely.

“It’s a tough sell to the your community that we’ll offer sports but nobody is in the building,” Lauer said. “But there are so many layers. Our superintendent was very supportive that we give these kids as many opportunities as possible to get together in a safe way. … This was certainly one way we could do that.”

At Pine Valley, both soccer teams and the swimming team are combined with Gowanda.

“It makes for a lot more communication with Gowanda,” said Chris Buczek, athletic director at Pine Valley where students attend in-person classes Monday through Thursday. “There aren’t that many kids coming over (for soccer), so they’ll be able to distance on a bus.”

Practices will begin Monday and student-athletes in all fall sports will now need 10 practices before playing in a game. That would make the first day games could be played Friday, Oct. 2.

“The Sept. 21 date gave us some time to make sure everything in the school was organized. Our administration did a phenomenal job keeping everybody safe and healthy,” Buczek said. “It’s worked really well. We are sticking with the same guidelines that we’ve been following. Hopefully we’ll roll smoothly right into Monday.”

“We met with our coaches (Wednesday) and laid out some parameters that we all have to follow,” Donahue said. “Our biggest thing is making sure we can provide this opportunity for our kids and do it safely.”

Sixty-one of the 74 districts said they would like to see some sort of postseason competition if feasible. The section continues to work with its coaching chairs to discuss the issues associated with postseason play.

“We were certainly concerned about postseason play, not as much about ‘dual’ competitions,” Slade said. “For the postseason, we have a lot of work for how to host a championship event in certain sports.”

While postseason play may be a long shot, especially in individual sports like swimming and cross country where county and sectional meets attract hundreds of student-athletes, at least for now sports are back in the area starting Monday.

“Anybody that enjoys sports as much as athletic directors and coaches, in our hearts we hoped it would be this,” Buczek said. “There was a small worry that once one (district opted out), everybody else does it … but it seemed like everybody I talked to agreed, ‘Let’s start on the 21st and play sports.'”

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