By Erin Holly McDermott, Editorial Staff (‘23)

In general, sports are one of the last priorities for high school health officials, as other issues such as school closures and vaccine distribution come first. However, they are extremely important for student-athletes. This creates a dynamic of urgency between student-athletes and decision-makers. Athletes and coaches alike are feeling the pressure to squeeze an entire season into a few weeks. 

To cope with rising cases of COVID-19 in the states, high school sports are not set to begin until January. This was extremely disheartening for student-athletes, especially seniors who wished to have a normal winter sports season. However, this was necessary, to maintain the health and safety of athletes and staff. Sports have been organized into different seasons, so far seasons 1, 2, and 3. Season 1 was fall sports, including football, tennis, soccer, etc. Season 2 is the “winter” season, including basketball, hockey, track, etc, which is set to begin early January and end in early March. Season 3 is the season that had been cut out for Girls Volleyball and Gymnastics (which had not been able to be played during the fall) which will now host wrestling. 

NJSIAA precautions and memos state the following: “Tournaments and games with more than two teams have been prohibited or limited this season. Sponsored post-seasons for basketball and ice hockey are gone. Instead, teams will have to be private or locally sponsored. Fans have been removed from games, in most sports, to limit exposure risk. Teams have been limited to 3 games per week for Season 2 and Season 3. A complete team should not extend the 25% capacity of the venue in which the sporting event is being held.”  

Although most sports will eventually have the opportunity to practice and compete,  the seasons have been drastically shortened. For basketball, fencing, and bowling, preseason begins on January 11th, games begin on January 26th, and the season is over by March 6th. This is extremely different to previous years, where tryouts take place the week before Thanksgiving, games begin in mid-December, and the season ends early March. The margin for error in games is much slimmer for these sports. Ice hockey began on December 14th and games on January 4th with the season ending on February 16th. However, Governor Murphy’s recent executive order has banned all youth/club/high school indoor sports practices and competition from December 5th to at least January 5th. This forces ice hockey teams to only hold outdoor  practices. Finally, swimming and winter track are set to begin on February 1st, competitions by February 16th, with postseason competition ending by March 27th. However, the most drastic change is to wrestling. Originally wrestling was a Season 2 sport; however, it has been pushed to Season 3. Wrestling practices are set to start on March 1st, games will begin on March 16th, and post-season is to end by the 24th of April. However all of these dates are subject to change, this change will be mandated by using the current information at that time. 

Chief Operating Officer of the NJSIAA said, “We remain keenly focused on providing New Jersey’s student-athletes with the opportunity to participate in sports, and given current health data and modeling, we believe pushing the schedules back ensures the best opportunity for our kids.” 

Student-athletes, of all sports, are encouraged to practice CDC recommendations and personal hygiene tactics. This is the only way to remain healthy and can play your sport. The CDC and NJSIAA are doing this in the best interest of students, athletes, coaches, and staff alike. The ability to play, even a shortened season, is a blessing within itself. If you wish to learn more information about delays and any updates you can check these resources:

https://www.nj.com/highschoolsports/2020/11/njsiaa-pushes-all-winter-hs-sports-competition-to-2021-wrestling-gets-major-shift.html

https://www.northjersey.com/story/sports/high-school/2020/11/19/nj-high-school-winter-sports-delayed-seasons-will-be-shortened/6311496002/