Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gave the green light Monday for student-athletes across the county to resume playing so-called high-risk sports this winter.

“We will be able to have our high-risk sports return and have our athletes back on the field, where they belong,” Bellone announced during a press conference held outside at Blydenburg County Park in Smithtown.

“Kids want to play, and we know the health benefits of sports to our kids,” he continued. “If we can get them on the field is as safe a way as possible, we know that it will bring great benefits to them.”

Section XI, the governing body for organized school sports in Suffolk, charted out about 5,000 schedules for wrestling, competitive cheer, and girls and boys basketball teams, Section XI President Tom Combs said. Football is also among the school sports now permitted.

“We are ecstatic that the student-athletes will have the opportunity to play high-risk sports,” said Combs, a former high school football coach and a member of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s a great day for Suffolk County Athletics.”

Sports categorized as high-risk had been shelved since the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. Bellone’s announcement came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared on Friday that high-risk sports could again be played, pending approval from local health departments.

Bellone noted that the county’s Department of Health is putting forth guidance that contain a series of measures that need to be taken in order for high-risk sports to safely resume and continue. The measures include:

  • Weekly testing for participating athletes, coaches and others in daily contact with the teams
  • Temperature monitoring before games and practices
  • Minimizing sharing of equipment
  • Wearing masks whenever possible

Student-athletes will also be required to take a “Champion of the Community” pledge, promising to be responsible and taking appropriate measures toward limiting the potential spread of COVID-19.

Spectators, as of now, will not be allowed at events, according to officials. County parks are being made available for school cross country events.

“We know how important sports are in our kids’ lives,” said Bellone, who talked of having a football catch with his son during Sunday’s NFL championship games. “Our schools are where our kids are safest — with the virus spreading the least … “This is not over We know there are still going to be challenges ahead. We know we’re going to be dealing with this virus for some time.”

prior reporting

Above photos courtesy of Smithtown photographer Steven Zaitz.