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Southern Brooklyn pols, Catholic sports leaders call for reopening of high school, high-risk sports

Brooklyn Bonnies

Let the games begin! 

A cadre of Brooklyn politicos and Catholic high school sports leaders are demanding the mayor allow a return of high school sports in the five boroughs as soon as possible.

“We write today to request prompt, clear plans from health and education officials on the following: higher-risk sports, spring season youth sports league park permits, and re-opening of high schools and therefore PSAL sports,” wrote State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, City Councilmember Justin Brannan, Assemblymember Jaime Williams, and State Sen. Roxanne Persaud in a letter.  “We are concerned about the effect that not having these programs has had on youth health and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Athletic fields at New York City’s schoolyards have been vacant for nearly a year as public high schools have been mostly closed since the start of the pandemic, and the city Parks Department will only issue spring and summer permits for low- to moderate-risk sports leagues on their field — despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowing higher-risk sports to participate in socially-distant practices since late September.

The governor announced in late January that higher-risk sports could resume playing games intra-regionally on Feb. 1, provided they have approval from their local health departments.

“Our winter sports — basketball, ice hockey and wrestling — were not played, and boy’s volleyball and lacrosse is not being played for spring sports,” said Dominick Vulpis, executive director of the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association in Brooklyn and Queens.

As the coronavirus pandemic has forced city kids indoors, the four politicians argue in a Feb. 11 letter penned to Mayor Bill de Blasio and outgoing Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza that opening up high school and higher-risk sports would bring much-needed normalcy into children’s lives while they await vaccines. 

“We know that COVID-19 prevention is paramount and can be logistically difficult, but we have the scientific knowledge to offer this guidance and we owe it to our youth to do so as they continue to wait months for vaccine distribution to unfold,” they said. 

Vulpis — who was joined by other Catholic sports administrators for a virtual presser on Thursday to announce their plans to push the city to resume high-risk sports this school year —  further recommends the reopening of high-risk and high school sports leagues, suggesting that players will go elsewhere, like in a municipality where their sport is allowed or privately in someone’s backyard, without any of the guidelines the state might recommend. 

“This forces student-athletes to play in outside leagues,” he said. “The city is putting them in the hands of people who don’t have to be certified.. like in somebody’s backyard or house.” 

In their letter, the quartet of politicians requests the city promptly issue plans for higher-risk youth sports, spring season youth sports leagues permits, high school sports and therefore, Public Schools Athletic Leagues sports. 

They advise the city to look to other municipalities across the state for intel on safely reopening higher-risk sports which have been prohibited to play games in the city since the start of the pandemic, and pointed to Suffolk County’s swift action following the governor’s January announcement. 

“We encourage you to follow the lead of health and education officials elsewhere in the state and instruct the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Education, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and PSAL to create a plan and share it with schools, coaches, athletes, and families as soon as possible,” the letter states. 

Meanwhile, Vulpis said his organization has been reaching out to the city health department and councilmembers for months on this issue and claims they have never once received a response. 

Brannan and Gounardes both led a push last August calling for the city to resume issuing youth sports permits in time for the fall season after the city Parks Department posted on their website they were suspending permits due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Politicians, families and sports coaches contended that with parks open to the public, people were starting pick-up games void of safety guidelines. Meanwhile, organized leagues would have guidelines and schedules to abide by. 

De Blasio elected to green light youth sports permits later that week, and Brannan and Gounardes are hoping for a similar outcome this time around. 

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