(Editor’s note: this is the first in a two-part series on the postponement of New York’s high school football season.)

It wasn’t the news they hoped for, but finally high school football coaches in New York got some clarity Wednesday night.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) postponed the season for three fall sports considered a “high risk” for spreading infectious diseases — football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading — to March 1, delaying spring sports practices from March 15 to April 19 to make room in a crammed 2021 schedule.

The NYSPHSAA will allow all other fall sports (girls tennis, cross country, girls swimming and diving, boys and girls soccer and field hockey), which received the go-ahead from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office to play this fall, but sections or school districts still can opt out of the season.

On Tuesday night, Section 6 football co-chairmen Ken Stoldt and Jay Sirianni held a call with coaches to outline their plan for to start practice on Sept. 21 and potentially play games starting in October. The plan, of course, was pending state approval. But 24 hours later, the state’s athletic governing body made the call to push back football now.

“I know it is very disappointing for athletes and coaches who were really looking forward to getting back on the field,” Stoldt said in an email to media representatives Wednesday night. “At this point we need to focus on the positives. A lot of the uncertainty should be cleared up regarding the pandemic and the protocols we are required to follow. Hopefully we will have fans at our games by then with no restrictions. If all goes well we can now get preseason workouts in, and in general, we will all have time to plan. I’m certain our football community can pull together to make the best of this and get our kids a rewarding experience this spring.”

Olean High coach Phil Vecchio characterized his reaction as “surprised and disappointed,” due to the hope from Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“We had a Zoom call Tuesday evening with every coach in Western New York and Ken Stoldt and everybody sounded very positive,” Vecchio said. “It sounded like we were going to be starting on Sept. 21, we were going to have a seven-game schedule that ran into Thanksgiving and everything else. Then last night, 24 hours later, we were blindsided by the decision. Well, I was blindsided anyway. I can’t speak for anybody else.”

According to the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations), New York became the 18th state (plus the District of Columbia) to either postpone its football season out of the fall, or cancel entirely.

The lack of consistency from state-to-state — especially with neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio set to play — frustrates Vecchio.

“I would gather to say that their rates are higher than New York state,” Vecchio said of other states choosing to play. “But I guess at the end of the day safety is the No. 1 priority of the kids.”

Bolivar-Richburg coach Steve Smith said he anticipated a move of the football season after Friday’s release of NYSPHSAA fall guidelines included little new information for football and other high-risk sports.

“I saw the guidelines for football hadn’t changed, that what was permitted was the same as what was permitted, let’s say, back in July, so there was no movement,” Smith said. “Just in conversations prior to that with a couple of task force members, we were all led to believe that when these guidelines came out, that football would look more like we were used to as far as practices and building toward a season. So when those guidelines came out and nothing changed, personally I told my athletic director there’s no way we’re going to be able to play at this point.”

While unsurprised, Smith was still disappointed by the final announcement.

“It’s very disappointing, as a coach for your players,” Smith said. “It just felt like we were kind of led along over the summer, believing or I guess hoping that guidelines would lessen a little bit and we would have that opportunity.

“It’s such an unknown, what will the spring look like? Nobody knows.”

Salamanca football coach and assistant athletic director Chad Bartoszek sees a silver lining to the announcement: finally, teams have a date to work toward.

“It was a surprise just because it happened late at night and kind of jumped on us,” Bartoszek said of the NYSPHSAA decision. “I wasn’t expecting them to just move certain sports, I was expecting a full fall move or not a fall move ... I was thinking it would all be together, which we’ll see. We’re going to prep for Sept. 21 for our other sports. But from the football side of things, the bad part is we’re just so used to playing football in the fall. It’s very strange to be around it, watching it on TV and hearing about other states doing it and we’re just not playing.

“But the good side of all this is that we do now have a focal point. We have a date, something that we can get prepared for. I do think by then we’re already going to have our kids in the weight room and conditioned and hopefully they have already played their winter sports, so their bodies will be ready.”

Salamanca planned to play its 2020 fall season at Crowley Park on a field used by the city’s youth programs. But by March, the renovation of Veteran’s Park could be complete.

“From the Salamanca side of things, we’re most likely going to have our facility ready at Vet’s Park,” Bartoszek said. “There’s a few positives that our kids can draw upon. But deep down there’s that sense of the fall and football is supposed to be played. It’s a little sad but we’ll make it work.”

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