ELLICOTTVILLE — When, or how, high school sports return remained a mystery into late July.

After initial guidance on the state’s school reopening plan did not include details of interscholastic athletics, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association pushed back its start date for fall sports from Aug. 24 to Sept. 21, and canceled all fall regionals and state tournaments and championships. The NYSPHSAA’s Covid-19 task force also made a backup plan, should the fall season be interrupted or fail to start in September, it would push all sports into 2021, playing all three seasons in six months.

“I think we all thought something would be different about this fall,” Ellicottville High School athletic director Dave McCann said. “I was a little surprised that the decision came out as early as it did to postpone the start of the season. We had been sent a few different scenarios prior to the state's athletic committee meeting. So we were aware of some of the things that might happen but I was a little surprised at first, trying to wrap our heads around it and just wait and see.”

As of this publication date, with interscholastic athletics still disallowed state-wide, students could not return to school grounds to work out, with or without coaches present. But McCann said he’s heard ECS students have found creative ways to keep in shape on their own or in small groups.

“I know Jason (Marsh) with the football team has been doing virtual workouts and I think even now to the point the kids are starting to get together on their own obviously without coaches around, starting to do a few things here and there,” McCann said. “I think more like a captain’s practice … a few have been going down to the town park and doing that. We have a number of athletes that are involved in some of the youth sports that are being played. I heard that some of the girls are getting together and playing soccer at the park, all stuff off school grounds. But it's good to hear that they're being active.”

McCann said he took part in a virtual meeting for Chautauqua Cattaraugus Athletic Association athletic directors on Tuesday, July 21, to discuss the next step for athletic departments as they wait for a decision on school reopenings.

“We are all in very similar boats right now, our superintendents and administrators are focused on plans to reopen the school,” McCann said. “I think athletics right now is in a holding pattern, it's not the No. 1 priority right now. But I think the consensus seemed to be that I think we'll know more...there's going to be another state task force meeting coming up. We're getting guidance from the state.

“Just today (July 23) we're getting some guidelines for what reopening athletics might look like, we got that from Dr. Zayas today and some of the information that's already been out there to at least start thinking about what it looks like or what it might look like in the fall, hopefully on Sept. 21. But I think ultimately we'll know when the governor makes the decision on schools in general in that first week in August.”

McCann, like most if not all coaches or athletic directors, especially from small schools, shares concerns over the overlapping dates on the NYSPHSAA’s 2021 condensed season plan. Starting with winter sports (called Season I) in January, the end of that season would overlap for two weeks with the start of “fall” sports (Season II) in March, then that season would end while spring (Season III) began. McCann hopes the dates can be revised to keep athletes from having to choose between a fall and winter sport, or winter and spring.

“I know Dr. (Robert) Zayas (the NYSPHSAA executive director) has come back and said those are just tentative dates,” McCann said. “Even from what we hear from Timm Slade, the executive director of Section 6, that those dates, I don't think they're set in stone. We may be able to … I don't think we're going to get an ideal situation or a perfect situation if we end up starting in January.

“But we're going to explore all the options we can to make sure that we can have our athletes participate in multiple sports. Even our feedback from our meeting the other day with the other athletic directors, that was the big concern there. And not only the athletes, but we have coaches that coach multiple sports. How would they handle an overlap of a season, are they going to have to choose one sport over the other?”

McCann still hopes, though, that fall sports could start in September if Covid-19 infection rates remain low in Western New York, which could mean taking a regional approach to the return of sports.

“I'm just hoping that we get some information at the beginning of August because scheduling wise, usually by this point in the year I have fall and winter schedules completely done,” McCann said. “And we're already starting to talk about spring- in a normal year. And I think that if they spring it on us a week before, the last week of August, that ‘hey we're not going to start or this is going to be the plan,’ and then we all have to scramble to put together schedules.

“So just hopefully in that first week of August we have some more information and best case scenario, things are still looking good in this area, numbers-wise, case-wise, and we can hopefully start on Sept. 21 and get the kids active and something to look forward to at the start of school.”