‘OUR KIDS LACK ENOUGH’: Parents hammer South Seneca BOE over decision to cancel fall sports

At a mid-September meeting without a lot of fanfare, the South Seneca Board of Education opted out of the Section V fall sports season.

It was a move that did not receive a lot of attention at the time, but prompted heavy response from students, parents, and the community-at-large afterward.

In fact, it even prompted a #LetThemPlay movement in the district itself. Some parents and students felt like it was a contradiction — “BOCES is running, summer and travel leagues happened, and yet here we are without a fall season,” one parent said. It also prompted protests and gatherings by students in the district. Zielinski says that last Monday, September 21st a walkout was organized by students. “They were an example for the rest of the country,” he explained. “I was really proud of our students, and even understand their concerns.”

It was an emotionally charged meeting, as between 70-80 members of the community were present. It was a mix of students, parents, and concerned citizens who felt like the most-intense restrictions on student life were coming from the district instead of New York State.

At the center of Monday’s meeting, which lasted approximately three hours — were three sports: Cross Country, Golf, and Soccer.

The first two were a lot easier for the Board to navigate, and even with one dissenting vote by Patricia Richardson, 6-1 was enough to approve resuming golf and cross country. According to Zielinski, who has been in communication with Section V alongside Athletic Director Heather Mott, the organizing entity for high school sports in Seneca County said it would be doable to get those sports rolling.

Soccer on the other hand would not be as simple.

“When the Board opted out of the season earlier this month — it’s sort of a situation where they moved on without us,” Zielinski explained to those in attendance. It meant, even if the Board opted to resume soccer — a low-to-moderate risk sport, according to New York State’s COVID-19 guidance for interscholastic sports — it likely wouldn’t mean a ‘normal season’.

However, many parents viewed it that way. “We’ll help,” one parent said, begging for an outcome that would allow students to participate in sports normally. Throughout the meeting students, parents and members of the boosters’ organization volunteered to work for free, help disinfect, and do other things associated with helping the district with the manpower necessities of resuming play. The District noted that stretching staff thinner with more protocols and work were both factors in the original decision — but not the sole factor.

Even then, Zielinski said that despite those interested parties — the state’s requirements were too intense to allow volunteers or students to help with things like disinfecting. “Anything we do — we must do as a district,” he explained to the audience.

Speaker-after-speaker shared their frustration with the circumstances. “The kids should be playing. If they can go to BOCES with kids from other districts then they should be able to play sports,” Trever Sibley, a parent in the district added. Adam Sibley, a student athlete in the district said that athletics is the reward for students who struggle in school or don’t enjoy it.

However, as the meeting went on there was one sentiment that stood out: Parents feel like their kids are missing out because sports aren’t being allowed in South Seneca.

“Our kids lack enough being in Southern Seneca County. Please don’t make this about finances or a virus that’s under control here,” another speaker begged. Several parents throughout the night got emotional speaking about their kids lost seasons, or permanently altered educational experiences. “When can we get students back to school full-time? Some of them don’t learn well remotely. They need to be back to school. My worst fear is that one student comes down with the virus and the district shuts down.”

This prompted Richardson to quickly respond. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. That absolutely can happen,” she said. The answer prompted an audible response from the audience.

However, all the debate and back-and-forth wasn’t enough to compel the Board to allow soccer. Instead, they voted to approve an intramural program, which will allow students to participate in ‘Club Soccer’ within the district. Zielinski said that the district would get to work on making that happen on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, golf and cross country will resume in South Seneca effective immediately.