ONEIDA — When you’re a senior, every season counts, say a group of Oneida student-athletes who organized a walkout of class on Monday to protest the district’s decision to delay the fall 2020 athletic season.
Senior Zackary Durr, one of the organizers of the protest, with around 90 of his fellow student-athletes to protest against the school’s decision. Durr said students understood the need to cancel the spring season back when COVID-19 was first hitting the nation but advocated for the start of the fall season.
“It was upsetting for all of us, but we understood,” Durr said. “But we really hoped that this fall season was going to be our outlet and that we were going to play.”
Superintendent Mary-Margaret Zehr said the district sympathizes with the students and is “…incredibly proud of its students, who are advocating for issues that they are passionate about.”
Durr plays soccer, baseball and indoor track and field. He was the vice president of his sophomore and junior class, on the Oneida Student Athletic Council, and represented the district at the Tri-Valley Youth Activation Summit. He is also a member of the New York State Public High School Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for the 2020-2021 year.
Students left their classes and made their way to the administration building, carrying signs and chanting. “We were all ready and training for the fall,” Durr said at the protest. “All the sports (at Oneida High School) are represented here today.”
Durr asked why Oneida student-athletes couldn’t play come fall — especially when summer was successful.
“We’ve seen people all summer from club sports play,” he said. “I umpired Little League myself. And there was no rise in infection. And we’ll have stricter guidelines than those events.”
Durr said student-athletes would follow any and all guidelines if it meant getting a chance to play. “We just want to get back onto the field and do whatever is necessary.”
The decision to delay the fall 2020 season was made public on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
In a statement to the Sentinel, the superintendent said the district decision regarding athletics was approached with the same health and safety concerns applied in determining the school’s modes of instruction.
“Our current focus remains on the successful implementation of student educational programming,” she said. “We strongly believe that our decision to delay the fall athletic season keeps our students, staff, families, coaches, officials, and surrounding school districts safer. The district recognizes the tremendous disappointment this decision has caused our students, families and community. We continue to review the implementation of additional academic, athletic, and extracurricular opportunities and look forward to the time when our students can engage in all activities.”
In a letter home to students, Zehr said the decision to delay the fall 2020 athletic season was made with the hopes that the district can implement a season later in the school year.
Durr argued that sports were important to students, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.
Senior Andrew Brown agreed, saying sports mean a lot to students — especially when it’s their prime motivator to do well in school — and he worries what kind of impact the sports delay might have on student performance or attendance.
Brown, who plays baseball, added “I was just hoping we could start the fall season,” he said. “And that’s why I’m here today, supporting my fellow teammates and friends.”
And for seniors going on to college, this could be their last year to play and make an impression on recruiters. When asked about this, Durr said this and opportunities for scholarships are being “…torn away.”
“These sports are being moved to the spring and not for nothing, these sports aren’t going to happen in the spring. We live in Central New York, it snows until May,” Durr said. “We saw that this year. It was May 7 and it was snowing. We’re not going to be able to get out and play our sports. We only have one real chance and this is it.”
Students lined up on the side of the road, holding up signs and getting encouraging honks and thumbs up from passers-by. Durr said he and fellow student-athletes will “…continue to fight” the district’s decision. “This is something we know we need and know we want,” he said. “This fight isn’t over for sure.”