GENEVA — Not only did the return of high school competition in the Finger Lakes bring with it heaps of joy, it provided a hint of a return to normalcy.
At the same time, contingencies and question marks have accompanied athletics too.
One of the few rules that is consistent across all campuses statewide is that no outside spectators are permitted to attend games; just two spectators per athlete are allowed. It’s an understandable but disappointing reality for the student body and local fans wanting to support their school after so many months of missed contests.
For media members and families of those playing, perhaps the biggest question mark surrounds masks — as in, when do athletes have to wear them? How should they wear them? And, perhaps the biggest one of all, do they have to wear them?
One document schools, sections, athletic departments and health departments relied on was New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Return to Interscholastic Athletics document. The 42-page guide — it can be found online — of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s high school sports decision has many areas to be unpacked, but nearly every single section includes the following statement:
“Responsible Parties must ensure a distance of at least six feet is maintained among individuals at all times, whether indoor or outdoor, unless safety or the core activity (e.g. practicing, playing) requires a shorter distance. If a shorter distance is required, individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing); provided, however, that coaches, trainers, and other individuals who are not directly engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering.”
This phrase is repeated in the document numerous times, as well as in the Sports and Recreation Guidance put forth by New York state Aug. 15. The key takeaway is that “individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing);” But what exactly constitutes a player being unable to tolerate a face covering? Some initial thoughts were respiratory issues like asthma or perhaps an allergy to certain fabrics.
The document also states that the contents of the document are subject to change, and also that the document “is intended for informational purposes only and does not replace, change or supplement state issued guidance.” In other words, they are considerations to help guide all parties involved in high school athletics.
According to Ontario County Public Health Director Mary Beer, being able to “tolerate” a mask or face covering ultimately falls on the student-athlete competing.
“What we recommend is that they should wear masks while they’re (competing), if they can tolerate it,” Beer said. “If they can’t tolerate it, they must wear it when they are on the sidelines.
“The public health directors in our region did discuss it so we’re all on the same page about that,” Beer continued. “We definitely recommend that while they’re doing their activity, they should wear the masks as long as they can tolerate it. If they can’t they can take it down until they get off the field.”
Consistent with what Beer stated, Yates County Director of Public Health Deb Minor responded to an email from the Times with the direct quote from the Return to Athletics document from the NYSPHSAA listed previously.
Meanwhile, players, coaches, trainers — all personnel on the sidelines, in other words — are required to wear masks while on the sideline, no matter the distance between bodies.
“They should keep those masks on given what’s going on with the numbers across the region,” Beer said.
The weather has been fabulous for outdoor fall sports thus far, but if there comes an instance where a game is contested indoors, the advisement to wear masks heightens, Beer says.
“If it’s an indoor activity, it’s really advised to wear it no matter what,” Beer stated. “If they’re outdoors, there’s some protection too, a little bit lower risk.”
Ultimately, when fall sports athletes wear a face covering under their chin, around their neck or not at all while competing, they are well within the rules to do so.