The Onteora School Board unanimously approved a plan to resume the high-risk sports of football and volleyball this month if weather and scheduling permits it.
Athletic Director Kim Pilla’s plan calls for varsity football and volleyball to start with a preseason workout regimen on March 8.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allowed the resumption of sports contingent on county Board of Health and district superintendent approval, leaving one trustee to question the board’s role.
For football, some games will need to be moved or canceled to give more time for preparation. Pilla proposes the first game to be March 26.
Precautions will be taken including sanitizing equipment after each practice and possibly requiring players to wear face guards. No home games will be played at Onteora.
For volleyball, Pilla hopes to have the first game scheduled for March 15
A lower number of participants for volleyball will help with exposure, Pilla noted in her proposal.
Scheduling and availability will determine if any football games can be played.
“We’re an eight-man team. We can only play an eight-man team,” Pilla said at the February 23 board meeting.
Pilla said Section 9 has been “really flexible” even though they have tentatively scheduled the first games for March 12.
“We don’t determine the schedule. However, we don’t have to comply with that schedule if it’s not going to be beneficial to us and we just can’t do it,” Pilla said.
“We need ten practices in football alone to be able to be in a competition. We wouldn’t’t be able to feasibly pull that off, even if we were to hit the ground running tomorrow.”
The weather and conditions must cooperate and as of now, there is still several inches of snow on the field so there is no place to practice.
Pilla said she has been working closely with the school medical director and high school and middle school nurse. She said the medical director has approved the plans with some caveats related to Covid-19 precautions.
While the district normally has one coach for each sport, assistant coaches will help with Covid compliance and paperwork, as well as staff that normally supervise after-school activities, Pilla said. She also noted people are staying after hours to help.
“I would propose we implement from the coaching standpoint an additional person, similar to what we’re doing now with low- and moderate-risk sports,” Pilla said.
“You can’t do the X’s and O’s and also be managing all these protocols in place. So we have not only an assistant coach for low-risk sports which we would propose to do for football and volleyball, we also have about eight after school supervision folks, myself included, and our high school nurse, who will be staying extra after school to help with the oversight as well.”
Trustee Bennet Ratcliff questioned having people stay after hours without compensation.
“I’d like to make sure that these people aren’t just doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” he said.
“We also want to see our athletes back on the field, but I don’t think we should be asking people to do a job and a half and paying them for one job. I’d like to see it written that that is how it is going to happen.”
Board President Laurie Osmond suggested Superintendent Victoria McLaren send an email to the board with specifics of the precautions, who will be administering them and any additional cost. That satisfied Ratcliff’s concerns.
Trustee Emily Sherry asked about ramifications for lack of compliance and how it will be communicated to athletes and parents “so everybody’s on the same page on not just what the rules are but what the ramifications are for breaking them.”
Pilla said she can provide that information.
As of the board meeting, Fallsburg, Millbrook, Eldred, Sullivan West, Spackenkill, Tri-Valley, Dover and Pine Plains are possible schools to schedule football games and “for volleyball it’s even more,” Pilla said.
“I appreciate the thought and the diligence that has gone into this. With a few tweaks and edits I think this could be a really good plan,” Trustee Dafne DeJesus said.
“This is going to be good not just for the students’ physical health but for their mental health,” she added.
“My younger one went back to school and was so thrilled to be back in gym class and learning how to snowshoe.”
Pilla also included a secondary proposal or “Plan B” to be used if a return to games does not work.
The district would provide a “conditioning and skill-based opportunity with no competitions or games” by April 1, according to Pilla’s proposal.
Onteora is already on track to begin low-risk sports by March 1. Those will include field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer and tennis.