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Montgomery County approves high-risk winter sportsFinal approval rests with county’s school districts; Johnstown opts out Final approval rests with county’s school districts; Johnstown opts out

The roller-coaster ride continued for area athletes Friday.

Those awaiting word on whether they would be allowed to play sports deemed high-risk got mixed results.

For those competing at the five Montgomery County high schools, they moved one step closer to competing pending approval by their respective districts.

Student-athletes at Fort Plain, Canajoharie, Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville, Fonda-Fultonville and Amsterdam were allowed by Montgomery County to begin Monday pending local school district approval.

“Together with our superintendents, we have created a path forward for high-risk sports that balances safety but also allows student athletes to compete,” said Montgomery County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort in a news release.

Ossenfort in conjunction with Public Health Director Sara Boerenko said boys and girls basketball teams will be allowed to begin practicing, scheduling scrimmages and games Monday within Montgomery County. Upon the rolling seven-day average falling below 4 percent or less, Montgomery County teams will be allowed to play games with counties that have approved play. Currently districts are awaiting guidance from Section 2 regarding wrestling protocols and more information will be forthcoming upon receipt.

Spectators will not be allowed at games and scrimmages, however districts plan to use live streaming for parents and fans.

“This decision will allow teams to begin practice and games, avoiding a total loss of the season. It is truly my hope the metrics improve and student athletes can commence out of county competition during the winter season,” added Ossenfort.

Ossenfort will discuss high-risk sports in further detail as well as answer the public’s questions during Montgomery County’s Facebook live briefing Monday at 1 p.m.

The high-risk sports, include boys and girls basketball, cheerleading, volleyball, wrestling and ice hockey.

On the other side of the coin, student-athletes in Johnstown found out Friday that there will be no high-risk winter sports (basketball and wrestling) offered this winter.

On Jan. 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that high-risk sports could start Monday, but placed local decision-making in the hands of each county’s Department of Health and each individual school district.

In order for high-risk sports to start, the Fulton County Public Health Department requires the county’s seven-day rolling average percent positivity (as calculated by NYSDOH) be at or below 4 percent. If that number is above 4 percent, DOH guidelines say that “activities must be restricted to individual or distanced group training or organized no/low-contact group training.”

Through Thursday, the seven-day average was at 8.4 percent for Fulton County and 8.9 percent for Montgomery County.

“We realize this news will hit hard for some, and we want the community to know that this was not a decision that was made lightly,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Crankshaw said in a news release. “Safety remains our top priority, and the unpredictability of this current public health emergency means that high-risk sports are simply not an option right now.”

Crankshaw emphasized the district’s priorities as they continue to navigate the pandemic.

“As a district, we remain focused on academic improvement, attendance and engagement for our students. Great strides are being made, but the success of our efforts hinges on being able to maintain the in-person learning model,” he said in the release. “We also understand the important role that athletics and other extracurricular activities can play in a student’s education, and hope to continue to offer those opportunities to our students whenever possible.”

Though it won’t field high-risk sports, Johnstown is fielding teams in bowling, alpine skiing, nordic skiing and swimming.

High-risk winter sports for the remaining four Fulton County school districts — Gloversville, Northville, Mayfield and Broadalbin-Perth — are all on hold due to the 4 percent threshold.

The only counties in Section 2 as of Friday afternoon to approve high-risk winter sports were Montgomery and Rensselaer.

Several other Section 2 counties are requiring the 4 percent metric to be met before allowing high-risk sports to begin, including Fulton County.

Several counties from around the state also will allow winter sports to begin Monday. As of Friday afternoon, that group includes Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chatauqua, Chemung, Cortland, Dutchess, Erie, Essex, Genesee, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Onondaga, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Putnam, Rockland, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Wayne, Westchester, Wyoming and Yates.

High school winter sports deemed “high-risk” have been on hold since a December announcement from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

Winter state championships have already been canceled by the NYSPHSAA.

Earlier this week, Section 2 announced a revised season schedule and also is limiting all competitions to within the league, section or contiguous region or section.

It also recommended that schools should not be traveling or hosting opponents from out-of-state. Section 2 also advised that schools should not be participating in events where out-of-state student-athletes are participating.

More information about the winter and spring sports seasons can be found by downloading the New York State Public High School Athletics Association’s resource document using this link: http://nysphsaa.org/Portals/0/COVID%2019/2021%20January%20-%20Return%20To%20Interscholastic%20Athletics.pdf.

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