By Andrew Bosworth
On Wednesday, November 25, athletics director Scott D’Ottavio shared a 2020 winter sports update detailing New York State’s winter sports plan. Following a successful fall season of relatively few COVID-19 transmissions, the winter sports update explained that all sports will begin on January 4, emphasizing that all of this can change on short notice.
“The current situation is all sports—low, moderate, and high risk—have been pushed back to a tentative start date of January 4,” D’Ottavio said. “And that date can be pushed back even farther.”
No one knows what will happen in January, leaving a lot up to chance.
“There are two situations going on simultaneously,” associate head of school Rabbi Harry Pell. “One possibility is sports are going to start up January 4 and it is going to be safe and healthy. Another possibility is that maybe indoor sports should not happen since we cannot do them safely during the pandemic. I don’t think anyone believes that anything is actually going to happen on January 4. I think that New York State may wind up delaying again. They don’t want to cancel the season, but they also haven’t been ready to make it happen, because they don’t think anyone knows how to do it safely yet.”
The start date for the season is determined by NYS governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Public High School Athletics Association (NYSPHSAA). The choice to push the start date can be decided by either the state or TLS.
“Ultimately the person who has to decide is the school: it’s Dr. Kay, it’s our leadership team,” Pell said. “We turn to the medical advisory committee to ask for their opinion…because they are the experts.”
If any one of these groups of people decide that it is unsafe to hold winter sports, they will be canceled, as safety is the administration’s utmost priority at this time.
Junior Abraham Friedland finds the NYSPHSAA guidelines irresponsible.
“Safety wise, winter sports should absolutely not happen,” Friedland said. “It is impossible to play inside with a mask and be fully safe.”
Basketball, unlike soccer or tennis, is played indoors with players in constant close proximity to each other, running and breathing heavily, even while wearing masks, which are two factors that increase the probability of COVID-19 transmission.
“If we do have a season, and we have varsity and JV [basketball], my concern is that we will have a lot of kids coming out. In the past, we have had upwards of 20 kids on a JVteam. This year, unfortunately, we will not be able to keep that many on a team. I don’t know how many we will take; we will not be able to manage the numbers we have had in the past,” D’Ottavio said. “Masks are going to have to be worn; equipment will have to be sanitized.”
Basketballs themselves would require sanitization as many students would touch them with their hands, unlike a soccer ball which is mostly in contact with one’s cleat.
“[A few years ago], I remember sitting on the bleachers at the championship game and there were hundreds of people there, a person on either side of you, squished in,” Pell said. “You just can’t do that now.”
Unlike prior years, during COVID-19, TLS has turned the middle school gym into a classroom and tefilah space. Without it, all three operating teams will have to share the high school gym, as opposed to just the two varsity basketball teams occupying the space.
Even if TLS is able to offer high school sports, no modified sports will happen this winter because there is not enough space.
TLS prides itself on its athletics, but prioritizes the health of its students.
“I try to be optimistic, it’s just under these circumstances I find it hard to believe that there will be a winter season, mainly because of the increase in cases in the area,” D’Ottavio said.
On the first day of school, September 9, there were 50 new cases of COVID-19 in Westchester per day, but as TLS gets ready for the winter sports season, that number has reached over 600.
Because high risk fall sports were postponed until March, it would be difficult to delay winter sports much beyond early January.
“I can’t see them pushing it back any further,” D’Ottavio said. “As of now, March 1 has already been named the [start of the] Fall 2 season. For Fall 2, the sports that are offered throughout the section are football, volleyball, and competitive cheer. Out of those three, we only offer volleyball…[pushing the winter season] back farther would be cutting it close to March 1, and the spring season has already been pushed back to April 19.”
Since there is a high likelihood that winter sports will not happen this year, it is imperative that students remain active.
“For high school PE this year we decided…to require all students in high school to complete one hour a week of physical activity,” said D’Ottavio.
This hour can be broken up throughout the week, as an alternative to PE classes twice a week, and will continue throughout winter.
Upon the realization of the increased chance of the cancellation of winter sports, Friedland decided to start the “Health and Fitness Club.”
“We run workouts…just to keep the body moving,” Friedland said.
Many athletes look forward to the winter sports season, but like many aspects this year, “everything is an if,” Pell said.