(Editor’s note: this is the second in a two-part story on the postponement of New York high school football.)
Many coaches, such as Bolivar-Richburg’s Steve Smith, abide by the “control what you can” mantra.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, however, has confronted athletic programs of all forms and left very little that coaches can, in fact, control. But at least now, Smith said, New York’s football coaches can begin to plan for an unprecedented season with the given start date of March 1.
“That was my comment to several of my coaches. At least we have a date now,” Smith said. “All summer, we never really had a date other than Sept. 21 (when fall sports practices begin) and that was with all these guidelines attached; it didn’t mean a whole lot. So you can practice with 10 players? What are you going to do with 10 players? I think by having that March 1 date and now that that’s out there and released, it’s certainly something we can focus on more than the unknown that this fall was throwing at us.
“That was so frustrating. I don’t know any coach that could answer any questions, and who wants to be in that position where you can’t even talk to your players about what the possibilities are because nobody would tell you.”
Smith, a member of the Section 5 football committee, said the group will meet via Zoom next week to plan out the spring football season. But the exact parameters of the season’s length, or postseason plan, still needs clarity.
“I think we’ll need more information from the state as to how long of a season are we looking at here, how many weeks do we have to work with?” Smith said. “Once we know that, we certainly can build a schedule to fit that. That’s just part of what the committee’s going to do. I’m sure Section 6, and everyone, is going to be working on that. The hope is we’ve got a green light to go ahead and do that.
“It’s so tough on the kids, and I think that’s part of the frustration that most of us feel. I’m going to coach for who knows how many more years, but if you’re a senior in high school, all of a sudden you don’t have a fall sport. Your focus is now on March. That’s tough.”
THE MARCH start, even with spring sports pushed back into mid-April, will likely lead to some overlap with the end of the winter season and start of the spring. Olean coach Phil Vecchio’s greatest concern would be not forcing students to choose one season over another.
“There’s going to be two weeks in there that are going to be difficult for people to navigate,” Vecchio said. “I’m afraid it’s going to make student-athletes make choices on what sport they’re going to play, which I don’t think is the best thing. Most of these kids only have four years to play organized sports and if you have to make a kid make a choice, that’d be a shame, I believe.”
Vecchio hopes to get his football players together to prepare for the season once other fall sports, in the low-to-moderate risk category, are allowed to practice.
“We’re waiting on further guidance. We’re going to make the best of it much like a college football season that has 10 or 12 spring practices,” Vecchio said. “I guess we’re hoping to do that in the fall within whatever guidelines they send us, if we are allowed to do it.
“Hopefully they are making some adjustments. I know they had moved the winter season back two weeks to allow for the fall, so I don’t understand why they would need to keep it moved back two weeks if you’re going to cancel football, volleyball and cheerleading … I’m hoping that if they do that, then maybe those other sports could be moved up and have a little bit more time. I don’t know, it’s just a mess for sure.”
SALAMANCA coach Chad Bartoszek stressed cooperation between coaches, administrators and districts to make the season work through various potential conflicts.
“It’s going to be real important that coaching staffs and districts just work together,” he said. “We have to do what’s best for the kids, not for us adults. We’ve got to make sure we all understand this is different. It’s not going to be a full football season. We’re going to have to make some adjustments. Kids may be in basketball playoffs or wrestling (tournaments), their sectionals, whatever we might have. The spring sports might start at the tail end of our football season and we’re going to have to be able to work with our coaches.
“I’m hopeful that especially in our district we’re going to be able to figure this out and make it work, because these kids deserve those three seasons and they’re going to be real busy come January. We don’t want to put any more stress on them. We just have to make it beneficial, competitive and fun.”
Bartoszek hopes to begin conditioning activities, if the low-to-moderate risk sports start on time in Section 6.
“Now that’s if everything else is going forward,” Bartoszek said. “We should be able to start with something, even if it’s just getting together and running in our own part of the field, or doing body work in one section of the field. We should have opportunities to do that. Does it expand to possible flag football or 7-on-7? I think most coaches are hoping it does as we progress into October.”
Another way to keep football players in shape would be playing another sport. Smith said he would support his players trying soccer this fall.
“I think what we’ll do at our school is just see what the interest is, what the availability of the kids are,” Smith said of holding football workouts, such as conditioning or speed camps. “I don’t know if we’re going to have some kids who might think about playing soccer at this point. If soccer has a green light to go, the soccer coach asked me, ‘Would you mind if I talk to some of the football players?’ I said no, absolutely, go talk to them. If they’re going to get 10 games or whatever the soccer season might be.
“I guess we’re going to try to do what we would do in the summer, all winter, if we’re allowed. Get them in the weight room if we can, get them on the field to condition some.”