ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced “high risk” high school athletics could begin again on Feb. 1. And then he punted, leaving the final decision on what that means for what sports to the county health departments.
“This got thrown at us, unannounced. ‘Here you go counties, you decide,” said County Executive Dan McCoy during a press briefing. “It came out of nowhere. I’m perplexed. We are at the highest infection rate ever and yet schools can play sports.”
He said he is not yet ready to make a final decision but that decision will be based on “due diligence and science.”
From the start, McCoy has praised nearly every aspect of the governor’s handling of the pandemic, unlike his counterpart in Rensselaer County, Steve McLaughlin, who has criticized Cuomo for putting sick people in nursing homes, keeping things shut down when numbers dipped over the summer and most recently for not having a solid plan to distribute vaccines.
“I’m not here to get votes. If you want to vote me out of office go ahead,” an upset McCoy said. “I am going to make unpopular decisions and I’m going to do things you are going to be mad at but I’ll take it because I have to sleep at night. I make decision not to get reelected, they are based on science and people like Dr. Whalen and people running health departments who have been training for this for years.”
Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the county health department, said she will be talking to other departments around the state to see if there can be a coordinated effort to allowing high risk sports to commence. High risk winter sports like basketball, hockey and wrestling have been on hold while bowling, swimming and gymnastics teams have been competing, albeit with teams in different venues and the scores are compared later.
Fall sports like football and soccer were cancelled and the plan was to have them begin play in March under what is known as Fall II.
Coordinating a high school athletic schedule by county is tricky if not impossible. The Suburban Council, for example, has schools in Albany, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties. And individual school districts may not want to participate. This fall, soccer was allowed but schools like Bethlehem and Ballston Spa opted to not compete.
“We became aware of this on Friday like everyone else,” said Whalen, adding her son missed his senior year season and her daughter is a junior and also an athlete. “I understand how much parents want their children to be involved sports and I understand the children want to play sports but we have to balance this decision carefully.”