By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The era of stolen playoffs is over.

Swiped away by the coronavirus pandemic, interscholastic sports seasons have played out without sectionals.

“We established a goal at the end of last school year to do everything in our power to ensure that our spring-sport athletes wouldn’t be denied an opportunity to compete for a sectional championship two years in a row,” John Rathbun, Section Ill executive director, said in a news release. “It’s been a challenging school year for all of us, but our students have done a tremendous job keeping each other safe from COVID, and with our local Department of Health guidance set in place, we are pleased to offer this athletic competition to our member schools and student-athletes.”

Rathbun says these are the guiding principles for sectionals, established recently by the Executive Committee of Section Ill Athletics of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA):

• Seeding meetings will take place on June 6 for all sports. Sectionals will start the week of June 7.

• A single-elimination tournament will be completed by June 12 (rain date June 13).

• There will be no change to the team qualifying standards for sectional participation.

• This year only, some classes may be split for tournament purposes if the entrees exceed 16 teams

• All games, including semifinals and finals, will be played at the higher-seed school.

• Spectators: In accordance with NYSDOH guidance, responsible parties must limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player, and capacity is limited to no more than 50 percent of the maximum occupancy for a particular venue. Social distancing and face coverings will be required for all attendees, as well as strict adherence to all applicable Department of Health guidance.

• There will be no admission fee for the spring 2021 sectionals.

The plan was developed with input from the Section Ill executive director and staff, the Section Ill representative of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force, league presidents and athletic administrators, sport coordinators and sport committees, and Chief School Officer (CSO) Committee members.

Area schools in Section III include Bishop Grimes in East Syracuse, Bishop Ludden in Syracuse, Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, and Notre Dame in Utica.

“There’s no Coaching 101 book on the pandemic,” said Gallagher Driscoll, the athletic director at Bishop Ludden.

“I’m ecstatic for our student-athletes and the coaches,” he said. “We’re going to offer as many sports as we can; obviously, baseball — modified and varsity baseball; modified and varsity softball; outdoor track and field; golf; and depending on our numbers for lacrosse hopefully we can do something with lacrosse. So these kids deserve it. I’m also excited that our Section III is going to let each sport have a sectional champion.”

He added: “We’ve still got to keep in mind that there’s still a pandemic, and we can’t take anything for granted. We know that people lost lives, their livelihoods, family members, their homes, and sometimes you’ve got to step back and just think of those things and don’t take for granted the opportunity that’s given to us. …”

“I think our coaches have been terrific. Our parents have been terrific here, and I think obviously a credit to our student-athletes and all our students that we’ve been able to stay in the building with a couple minor hiccups this year, but we’ve been in the building most of the time.

“So I think this is great, and obviously when April 19th rolls around, we’ll be ready to go. They still have a month to go, but they’re training, they’re preparing, so, yeah, I think kids are excited.”

Seton Catholic Central, in Binghamton, plays in Section IV, which plans a spring schedule of April 19 to June 30; schools and leagues have the choice to end earlier if they so desire.

The Section Ill Executive Committee and executive director will continue to monitor additional guidance from the governor’s office, NYSDOH, State Education Department, and NYSPHSAA as circumstances change.

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