Murphy: ‘Final determination’ on fall sports season will be decided by NJSIAA

Gov. Phil Murphy has made nearly every decision involving how the state will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, but, when it comes to the resumption of high school sports, Murphy said he is comfortable leaving that choice in the hands of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“We know the NJSIAA is taking extremely seriously the need for protecting everyone in our school communities,” he said. “(The NJSIAA) will only pursue a sports schedule if they feel the proper health and safety requirements can be met.”

If sports do resume, Murphy said all students will be eligible to play fall sports regardless of if their school is doing in-person instruction or remote learning.

“Whether that student is seated in a socially distanced classroom or at their kitchen table does not matter,” said Murphy. “They are a student of that school, and they can play for that school.

Joining the governor at his Monday briefing were state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson). Both highlighted the importance of participating in fall sports for student athletes across the state.

“(Student athletes) need sports in their lives,” Sarlo said. “Not only for their physical well-being, but also for their mental and social well-being.”

Wimberly, who also serves as the high school football coach at Hackensack High School, agreed.

“The bottom line is the bond that is created in the locker room is something that I can’t explain,” he said. “It’s a bond that transcends all areas, from race, religion, gender — you name it.”

Some school districts around the state already have announced that they are canceling fall sports altogether, or at least pushing them back to the spring. The governor emphasized that these schools are allowed to make these decisions and they will face no push-back for it from the state.

“Some districts have already given notice that their teams will not be taking the field or lining up at the starting line, as is their right, and we are not going to overrule them,” he said. “For every school that does give their teams the go-ahead, we don’t want any student-athlete to be shut out based on whether or not they are physically in their school building.”

Despite no official word as of yet from the NJSIAA, Murphy is confident that it is possible to continue fall sports while taking proper precautions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

“I am encouraged that most of our major fall sports are played outdoors,” he said. “With the expanses of fields, we can also ensure proper social distancing among parents and spectators, and also among student-athletes on the sidelines.”

Sarlo, who helped organize and run the Last Dance high school baseball competition this summer, said he was hopeful that a determination from the NJSIAA will be coming soon.

“I am confident that the NJSIAA, in the coming days, will provide even further clarification and guidance on fall sports,” he said. “I challenge (the schools to compete) responsibly and safely, because we are all in this together.”