COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Ahead of a Section III vote regarding the fate of fall interscholastic sports, Cooperstown Central School District became the first in the section to cancel its fall sports season, Wednesday.
In a letter to families within the school district, Superintendent Dr. William Crankshaw said that the decision was based on the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), New York State and Otsego County Departments of Health and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA).
"Ultimately, the district's decision will keep our students, their families, our coaches, and those with whom we compete against safer," said the letter. "It is our hope that this decision, combined with other cohort and safety measures, will allow our students to return to school in person by October 5th."
There was also a secondary financial component to the decision regarding schools receiving a decrease in aid from the state this academic year.
"It was recently announced that New York State will withhold 20% of its aid to schools, equating to just over $1.2 million for Cooperstown," the letter continued. "Suspending the Fall athletic season until 2021, among other cost-cutting measures already initiated by the district, will help close the gap caused by this loss of aid."
As of now, Cooperstown will not attempt to hold fall sports in the spring of this academic school year.
The issue has been discussed among school administrators for Cooperstown for weeks, and as more guidance continued to be released, it became more difficult to envision the possibility of holding interscholastic sports this fall.
"The fall athletic season doesn't appear to make sense for Cooperstown Central Schools in terms of safety," said Dr. Crankshaw via a Zoom interview with NEWSChannel 2. "We're not at all comfortable with the recommendations from NYSPHSAA and together with recommendations of the CDC, and Department of Health, our reopening plan takes a lot of care to keep our students and staff safe. I just think an athletic season now is simply not viable if you're looking at all those pieces of guidance."
The NYSPHSAA released a Return to Interscholastic Athletics document on Sept. 4, using guidance from the NYSDOH to establish protocols to hold fall sports. Crankshaw said that the decision wasn't made solely based on the guidelines established in that document, but that it did seem to validate some concerns school administrators were already having regarding holding a fall sports season.
"With the uncertainties we have regarding the fall athletic season, the misgivings we have about the school's ability to make safety viable, we thought it best to cancel the fall sports season," he said. "[Instead], we'll put our effort into instruction, put our effort into coming seasons to make them the best that they can be, put our effort into reopening school and prioritize our efforts."
Specifically, Cooperstown school officials were concerned with being able to juggle overseeing safety protocols for student-athletes, coaches, and spectators, likely having to establish a health screening procedure along with other logistics, while being able to safely reintroduce students to in-person learning.
There were also some doubts about designation of certain sports, and whether or not they would be able to be conducted in a safe manner as described by guidance from the NYSPHSAA. No specific sports were named.
After winter sports state championships were cancelled in March and the entire spring sports slate was wiped out due to the pandemic, the hits seem to keep on coming for student-athletes as school districts continue to try to navigate the unknown during this time.
"Especially for parents and students [the end of last academic year] was heartbreaking because we had excellent seasons going into the spring that we couldn't finish out," said Crankshaw. "For some, it's such an important activity, the athletic program, it's heartbreaking to see those unable to continue.
"We saw other artistic endeavors, clubs and activities not be able to follow through on things that were very meaningful to them so collectively it was very difficult for everyone."
Cooperstown became the first school district in Section III to cancel its fall sports season. Indian River and Watertown followed suit later in the day on Wednesday, and a section-wide vote regarding the fate of fall sports will be decided on Friday.
However, Oneonta City School District, competing in Section IV (but geographically close to Cooperstown), announced on Sept. 4 that it would be postponing its fall sports to the spring.
Cooperstown school officials were aware of the decision, but ultimately made theirs based on what was best for the Hawkeyes.
"This decision was made for Cooperstown," said Crankshaw. "But I have to say we have a high regard for our neighboring colleagues and while they're in a different section, we all have the same concerns, we all have the same problems. I think a school like Oneonta or any other school making this decision only reinforces the correctness of the decision for us."
With Cooperstown hoping to return to in-person learning by Oct. 5, they will have some time to establish their hybrid system for a few weeks before focusing on options for the winter and spring sports seasons this academic year.
Crankshaw said that the first few weeks of hybrid education could be very telling towards the viability of returning to Hawekeys sports in the near future.
"Cooperstown is very proud of their athletic standards or performance, it's something we don't take lightly," said Crankshaw. "But when we can't guarantee to deliver something, we really have to think carefully how we approach making that decision. We do always put safety first, and so it becomes a no-brainer when you think about safety and the viability of carrying out that safety promise."