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Thursday, April 30, 2015: Practice infraction gets Fort Ann coach suspended

   Leading off today: If I had to guess, I'd say I've heard about a particular statewide high school sports rule being violated an average of at least twice a year for the past five years -- and I didn't fully understand what the implications of what was being said.

   Until now.

   Fort Ann administrators self-reported a violation of practice rules to Section 2 this week after the varsity baseball team allowed two former players who have since graduated take batting practice with the squad Sunday, The Post-Star reported Wednesday.

   The paper said Robert Sprague, who was not further identified, suffered an eye injury requiring hospital treatment according to George Lehoisky, his legal guardian.

   Fort Ann suspended coach Dane Clark for a Monday game and Tuesday practice while Section 2 reviewed the matter. On Wednesday, Clark was reinstated before a 7-0 win vs. Warrensburg after Section 2 sent Superintendent Kevin A. Froats a letter stating it will issue the district a warning.

   Froats quoted the letter as saying, "I trust that you understand the seriousness of this incident. However, given your District's history of compliance with the Section and the NYSPHSAA, the fact that you self-reported, and you took immediate and appropriate action with your coach it would be prudent to issue your district a warning in the form of a censure for this incident."

   Fort Ann reported a violation of Eligibility Standard No. 22 in the NYSPHSAA Handbook, which states, "An individual must be eligible according to age and all other Eligibility Standards to participate in practice or competitions with the high school squad in that sport."

   In his statement to the newspaper, Froats voiced support for Clark, who coached the Cardinals to New York State Public High School Athletic Association titles in 2010 and 2013.

   "He puts his players and student-athletes first at all times," Froats said. "He didn't want to do anything that could possibly jeopardize their safety. We're happy to have our coach back."

   For what it's worth: I think I may have even blogged somewhere along the line about the rule cited above, but I don't think I ever put the pieces together in my own mind.

   As I think back, though, I can remember instances in recent years of basketball or wrestling coaches mentioning in passing to me that so-and-so was home on break from college and came over to shoot some baskets or squeeze in a workout on the mats with former teammates.

   Obviously, that's a no-no, and the Fort Ann incident reminds us why.

   Big performance: Sophomore Catherine Johnson struck out 20 batters to lead unbeaten Edmeston to an 11-2 Tri-Valley League softball victory over Schenevus on Wednesday.

   Johnson walked two in a three-hitter.

   Meeting preview: The NYSPHSAA has a meeting of its Executive Committee scheduled on Friday. As is the norm, the agenda is pretty full. The most intriguing issue to be resolved may be the decision on future venues for the boys hockey final fours, an event long held in Utica but now possibly moving to Buffalo.

   I spelled out why Buffalo is a real threat to win the contract to host the next three tournaments in a blog last month, but there are a few more details worth noting ahead of Friday's vote.

    • The hockey committee met in March and supported staying in Utica by a 7-1 vote, though NYSPHSAA administrators have placed their support behind Buffalo's HarborCenter. The Utica Memorial Auditorium bid comes with an estimated $11,300 price tag. HarborCenter officials are offering free use of their new complex. On the other hand, Buffalo's facility may not offer enough seating to accommodate the tourney.

    • The NYSPHSAA's own Championship Advisory Committee has raised a concern that's already been making the rounds at sectional levels for awhile -- namely that overriding the recommendation of a sports committee chips away at that group's authority to govern that sport.

    One or two such decisions over the course of time might not amount to much, but keep the big picture in mind: If Utica, which has more than a quarter of a century history of hosting, falls by the wayside Friday, that can't be good news for Glens Falls this autumn if it faces stiff competition for the boys basketball tournament.

    If the boys basketball committee -- whose tournament is an annual rainmaker for the NYSPHSAA financial ledger -- were to line up in support of Glens Falls only to see the event be awarded to another city, virtually every other sport committee would have to wonder if they've been permanently marginalized.

    Balance that thought, though, with financial realities. With two Section 3 teams playing two games apiece in Utica last month, the tournament turned a profit of $16,580. If two Section 6 teams advance to the finals of a tournament at a venue being used for free, you've likely doubled your profit and helped further subsidize some of the sports that regularly lose money.

    Two important football rules changes could be coming down the pipeline. At least one is seemingly a sure bet Friday, and here's hoping the other remains on track through the vote by two representatives from each of the 11 sections.

    First up, the Executive Committee is being asked to approve a rule governing the amount of permissible contact in football practices. The proposal calls for a maximum of

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two 90-minute, full-contact practices per week during the season. The NYSPHSAA stands to become one of the early adapters of restrictions on hitting, but comparable proposals are popping up throughout the country.

    That proposal is all but certain to sail through the Executive Committee. Here's hoping that the other big proposal also passes. State football chairman Gary VanDerzee wants to reduce the minimum number of practices required for an individual by one.

    The way the preseason schedule is currently constructed, missing a single day of practice leaves a player ineligible for both the scrimmage and his school's regular-season opener. Permitting one absence allows players to deal with illness, minor injuries or family obligations without costing them playing time.

    The NYSPHSAA Safety Committee recommended that the subject be sent back to the sections for further discussions with a possible vote in July at the Central Committee meeting. Whether now or in July, this is a rule change that needs to be made.

    The Executive Committee will also take up the subject of changes to classification cutoffs that reflect shrinking enrollment in many New York schools.

    In cross country, for instance, schools with BEDS figures of 911 and higher competed in Class A last fall. While other class cutoffs would not be severely affected, the proposed revision for next fall changes the Class A floor to 850 students in order to keep approximately 25 percent of teams in each of the four classes.

    In girls volleyball, proposed changes for the 2016 season are more seismic top to bottom:

Class Current 2016 proposed
Class AA 1,040-up 941-up
Class A 690-1,039 587-939
Class B 436-889 345-586
Class C 256-435 203-344
Class D 255-below 202-below
    Football's proposed numbers for the 2016 season are also up for a vote on Friday, but the changes are so small as to be almost inconsequential: The cap on Class D would rise from 239 students to 249, with the other classes unaffected.

    A few other topics that will rate a mention on Friday:

    • With 331 schools playing the sport, the boys lacrosse committee may be ready to set the wheels in motion to add a fourth class to the NYSPHSAA tournament. The request could reach the Executive Committee in October and go into effect in 2016.

    • Remember the dust-up last month when it was disclosed the Wings Academy boys and South Shore girls had accepted invitations to play in the Dick's National Basketball Tournament after the traditional close of New York's season?

    Though the threat of a Federation boycott in Albany by Christ the King never played out, it's evident that the state's other associations remain unhappy with the PSAL. We'll likely hear more on the subject after a scheduled Federation members meeting May 13, but the NYSPHSAA has already taken measures.

    The agenda for the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee meeting indicates that Executive Director Robert Zayas sent a "letter of concern" to PSAL officials March 28 stating:

    "If Wings Academy and South Shore High School participate in the Dick's National Tournament, NYSPHSAA, as a member of the New York State Federation of Secondary Schools and the recognized sanctioning agent in New York State will take the following action:

    " • NYSPHSAA will not provide interstate sanctioning approval for all programs of Wings Academy and South Shore High School during the 2015-2016 school year.

    " • NYSPHSAA will notify the New York State Education Department of the violation of the Guidelines and Regulations of the NYSED Commissioner."

   When there was a similar controversy in 2011, the CHSAA officials threatened to boycott playing all PSAL schools but relented after receiving what they thought was an assurance that there would be no repeat on the part of New York City's public schools.

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