Rome district pans spectator limit at winter sports home games

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“There might be a little bit of turmoil coming our way politically,” said Rome Superintended of Schools Peter Blake at the most recent regular meeting of the Rome Board of Education as he reported to the Board that he had directed Michael Stamboly, Athletic Director for the district, to refuse to support Covid-19 spectator restrictions as winter sports moved athletes, coaches and spectators indoors while Covid-19 cases in the region are rising.

“I directed him to inform them that, whatever they vote on, we’re not going to do,” said Blake.

In a meeting of the athletic directors of the district members of the Tri-Valley League held on November 10, Blake said that the “number one topic” was limiting spectators at athletic events for the high school sports winter season.  Two thirds of the athletic directors representing the nine member schools voted to enforce a limit of two spectators per household / per participating athlete – at winter sports contests.

Rules regarding mandatory masks by athletes and spectators, regardless of vaccination status, are statewide rules — and not subject to a local vote.

Several officials have declined to name the other two districts in the minority in the vote for the winter sports Covid-19 spectator mitigation that Blake determined are more restrictive than those in place last winter season. But a source to the Daily Sentinel has confirmed that the Central Valley district has formally notified its TVL fellow member schools that it also will not restrict attendance at its winter sports events.

Whatever guidelines the Rome City School District puts in place – or not – will apply only to Rome’s home contests during the winter sports season. At away games, the home team’s guidelines would be in force. “Basically, our families will not be able to attend visiting contests,” said Blake, “unless they are at one of the other schools that are ‘going to do their own thing.’” 

The Tri-Valley League’s members are situated in three different counties, each of which has its own ability to issue its own guidelines, influenced by guidance and recommendations from New York State, create a challenge for member districts. The Tri-Valley district members include the Pioneer Division schools – Camden, Central Valley, Oneida, Notre Dame, and Vernon Verona Sherrill – and the Colonial Division schools – New Hartford, Rome Free Academy, Proctor and Whitesboro.

The winter sports impacted by the
TVL decision include boys and girls basketball, wrestling, volleyball and boys swimming.  Boys and girls ice hockey and indoor track may have different requirements based on the various venues involved.

Blake defended his position not in the context of the threat posed by the Covid-19 virus but to point out that there is no rule requiring “uniformity” among the TVL or CSC member districts with regard to such decisions. He gave the example of each districts musical performances held during the winter and early spring months, which are also held indoors, where he made the point that there was no agreement among the same districts to observe agreed upon mitigation protocols. 

“There is nothing that says we have to have uniformity,” said Blake.

Blake warned that Rome’s decision is likely to bring some “negative light” to the district from “some other folks Utica way,” but held firm in his belief that he is working with what he feels “is in the best interest of our students and families.” 

Officials said not having spectator limits is the “least restrictive environment” – meaning in general to adopt as few restrictions as possible, outside of what would be considered customary, while working to create a safe environment for the school community, families and spectators at all school-sanctioned events.

“The other district that abstained will probably join us in the ‘we’re going to do what’s best for us’ position,” said Blake.

While Blake pointed out that the restrictions on winter sports being proposed – and subsequently supported by two thirds of the Tri-Valley athletic directors – are more restrictive than last winter season, the Covid-19 infection rate is relatively higher than it was last winter season.  On Nov. 10, 2020, in Oneida County there were 56 new cases and a 7-day average of 40 new cases. On Nov. 10, 2021, the day the Tri-Valley athletic directors put spectator restrictions to a vote, there were 137 new cases with a 7-day average of 108 new cases. As of Thursday, Nov. 18, there were 1,619 active positive cases in the county and 523 deaths since the pandemic began.

Currently, 71% of Oneida County residents age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 65% of residents age 12 and older are fully vaccinated; 5% of children in Oneida County, age 5 to 11, have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

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