Adherence to Section IX mask mandates is proving difficult in local school districts, as student athletes on everywhere from basketball courts to wrestling mats continue to struggle with keeping their noses and mouths covered.
Late last year, school officials in the Kingston City School District echoed a sentiment expressed in other local districts by saying that the continuation of the winter season was dependent upon masks being worn properly.
“We’re going to continue to emphasize with our coaching staff the importance of keeping our masks up,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino during a meeting of the KCSD Board of Education held on Wednesday, December 8. “Quite honestly, if we can’t do that, we can’t play. That’s it. If we can’t maintain safety of our athletes and their opponents, we can’t play.”
But over the past few weeks, student athletes in Kingston and elsewhere have been observed with improperly worn masks during games, and with the infection rate dropping rapidly across the Hudson Valley, school officials are hoping to ensure they don’t rise again.
“This is an ongoing issue,” said Padalino on Friday, January 28. We get periods of compliance and then it falls back.”
Padalino said that he’d recently seen the sports pages of newspapers from across New York State and believed the problem was widespread, with athletic directors wondering what to do about it.
Rich Silverstein is the KCSD’s director of physical education, health and athletics. In an e-mail, Silverstein said it was up to school districts to ensure mask protocols are followed.
“Referees for all sports have been instructed that mask wearing during sports is not in the rules of the sport, and they are not to enforce,” Silverstein said. “It is up to us as schools to enforce this as we all have done in our athletic departments.”
Dom Zarrella, athletic director for the Saugerties Central School District, agreed.
“All spectators, coaches and participants must wear masks,” Zarrella said. “The officials also must wear masks. Enforcement of this policy is conducted by the host school. The officials do not participate in enforcement.”
The nature of the sport…
SCSD Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said last week that it was inevitable that masks will occasionally slip off during an athletic event, particularly those with close contact. But that the expectation was that the issue would be quickly remedied.
“I was at one of our wrestling matches the other day and when a mask came off, there was an out of bounds (called) so the kid could adjust their mask,” Reinhardt said. “It’s going to come off in wrestling just due to the nature of the sport.”
Reinhardt added that be believed most student athletes have taken the mask mandate seriously because they’re grateful just to be able to compete again.
“They don’t want to miss a season,” Reinhardt said. “A lot of them missed last season, and they’re getting to the point where sectionals are coming up and they don’t want to be excluded from those for any type of reason. So I think they’re doing what they can to make sure they’re eligible.”
Spring will be different
With the regular winter sports slate ending in mid-February, and the playoffs following, school officials said it was unlikely that any team’s seasons would be pulled. But that isn’t going to stop them from trying to ensure the mask mandate is followed.
“If we have a rule that we aren’t going to enforce and can’t enforce, then why are we having the rule?” Padalino said. “I mean that across the state and in the New York State High School Athletics Association. If we’re just throwing our hands up and saying, ‘Well, it is what it is,’ then, then get rid of the rule. When I was a high school principal, I remember telling people that I’m not going to make a rule I can’t enforce; that just makes us look like fools.”
Padalino said that it was encouraging that infection rates were going down, and that a high percentage of student athletes were vaccinated and boosted. But as long as there’s a rule, it should be enforced.
“It’s on a list of things I need to address not only with our athletic director, but also coaches,” Padalino said. “They need to be in compliance, and it’s management and we’re going to continue to harp on it.”
School officials also believe that the mask mandate for athletes will be different for spring sports, which begin in March and are played outside.
“As soon as we get outside it seems like a very different situation,” Padalino said. “Wrestling, basketball, you’re inside. This is an issue for right now. I think this spring, it’s going to be a very different situation.”