Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball coach Gary Bynon has had a difficult time explaining to his team why it cannot practice in its normal fashion when the fall sports season begins on Sept. 21.
Volleyball was among the fall sports Gov. Andrew Cuomo deemed “higher risk” last month, when he said its teams could begin “no- to low-contact training” and could not play games “until a later date or December 31st.”
Such restrictions were not placed on lower- and moderate-risk fall sports like field hockey, soccer and cross country.
“I am happy other sports are allowed to start. I am glad they have a chance,” Bynon said. “But I really feel what’s happening to volleyball kids is unfair at times.”
Bynon said he was surprised when the sport he has coached for decades was categorized earlier this summer as “higher risk” by the New York State Department of Health.
“We feel we’re not the high risk sport they say it is,” said Bynon, speaking on behalf of his school and in his role as president of the New York State Volleyball Coaches Association. “We just want to be heard.”
According to an information packet provided to The Daily Gazette by the New York State Department of Health, in reference to the different risk levels for sports: The ability to participate in sports and recreation activities is determined by a combination of the risk for COVID-19 transmission (1) inherent in the sport or recreation activity itself and (2) associated with the “type of play” (e.g. individual practice vs. game).
Concerning higher risk sports, the NYSDH information provided states: Higher risk sports and recreation activities are characterized by: Least ability to maintain physical distance and/or be done individually; Least ability to: (1) avoid touching of shared equipment, (2) clean and disinfect equipment between uses by different individuals, or (3) not use shared equipment at all. Examples of higher risk sports activities include: Football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, contact lacrosse, volleyball, martial arts and competitive cheer.
“Sharing of the ball and proximity, we can fix those things,” Bynon said. “We have it all figured out. We’ve talked about no huddles. Staying on one side of the net has been brought up.”
Bynon has plenty of support in the hope that volleyball will get the okay to move forward in terms of practices and games in the coming weeks by state authorities.
The National Federation of State High School Associations puts volleyball in its moderate risk category.
“We understand that our athlete’s health and welfare are of utmost importance,” Baldwinsville coach and state girls’ volleyball committee member Mary Jo Cerqua wrote in an email that Bynon forwarded to the Gazette. “But so is their mental health. Watching their friends being allowed to compete when they can’t is unfair. With that being said, if other sports are allowed [soccer, field hockey, swimming] volleyball should be given a chance. These kids deserve a chance."
“As president of the association, that is what I am hearing across the state," Bynon said. "We can help. What’s upsetting to coaches across the state is we can fix this like neighboring states have done.”
Any volleyball games played this fall would be at the local level. Fall regional and state-level competitions, which Burnt Hills won last fall, have already been called off by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as a safety measure in the coronavirus environment.
“Our kids want a chance to play, even if it’s just in the league or Section II,” Bynon said. “Our hope is to play games this fall.”
That won’t happen without state-level authorization, and moving volleyball (and football) from the fall to sometime in 2021 is among the actions being considered by Section II athletic leaders.