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Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016: Taking one last look at the 2015-16 school year

   The 2015-16 school year was one of firsts, records, outlandish winning streaks and the usual quota of dust-ups on and off the playing field.

   The process took more twists and turns than all the rides combined at an amusement park, but the NYSPHSAA boys basketball tournament heads to Binghamton next March after 36 seasons at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

   That story leads off our third annual year in review of New York high school sports on the eve of the new scholastic year, one that will have a tough act to follow.

Ten contentious weeks

   Death and taxes had long been iffy propositions compared to the tradition of playing the New York State Public High School Athletic Association boys basketball championships at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The arena's most recent three-year contract had guaranteed the event's run there through March 2016, and rivals for the right to host were going to have to take on history and an organizing committee that had the operations plan down to a science.

   It's why there was little surprise when news emerged late last September that Glens Falls had seemingly fought off Binghamton for the right to keep the final four weekend through 2019.

   But there turned out to be much more to the story. In early October, NYSPHSAA officials emailed the Executive Committee to inform them that concerns had been raised because the bid details presented by the Glens Falls group at the selection meeting had been markedly different than what had been submitted on paper four weeks earlier. Supporters of the bid from Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton demanded a do-over in order to counter Glens Falls' sudden $15,000 reduction in the arena rental fee.

   The Executive Committee approved a change in the bidding process so that proposals would remain sealed until the selection meeting attending by the sport reps from each of the 11 sections, but new drama erupted when the association's administrative staff and the basketball committee disagreed after reviewing the new bids.

   With Binghamton pledging to slash expenses far beyond what Glens Falls offered, Executive Director Robert Zayas and his staff supported moving the tournament while the basketball committee voted 7-4 to stay put.

   That threw the decision to the Executive Committee, which voted 14-8 during a late-December teleconference to support Binghamton's bid. The winning proposal featured free use of the arena, a pledge of $30,000 per year in community support to go toward the event, and a staff of certified trainers donated by a local health service agency.

   "It was hard for Section 4 to win over an established product," Chenango Valley principal Terry Heller, a member of the Section 4 contingent that pursued the event, told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. "We knew going into it that Glens Falls is the culmination of the high school season and we have to do a great job, we know that. Pressure's on. We're looking forward to that challenge."

   Separately, Glens Falls won back the Federation tournament beginning in 2017.

Reporting gets results

   Newsday conducted a seven-month investigation that analyzed concussion reports from 104 of the 116 schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties and helmet inventories from 108 schools. The paper's findings included 885 football helmets in circulation before this season that were classified as "low performers" at reducing the risk of concussion, according to safety ratings that Virginia Tech researchers have been publishing since 2011. More than half the schools reported having helmets rated at one or two stars on a five-star scale.

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   Eighteen schools promptly removed those helmets from their inventories or did not issue them in the 2015 season. New Hyde Park, which reported 71 one-star helmets in its inventory (though the equipment met National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment criteria), subsequently purchased 160 five-star helmets at a cost of $38,400. The Hewlett-Woodmere school district told the paper it has bought 125 new five-star helmets in response to the story.

   Even before the Newsday inquiry, Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson replaced their inventories with all new five-star helmets at a combined cost of $48,664 after the death of Shoreham-Wading River junior Thomas Cutinella in 2014.

Ongoing debate flares up

   With the fall postseason in full swing, word emerged that superintendents of 18 suburban Rochester school districts asked the NYSPHSAA to consider removing private schools from future playoffs. The Monroe County Council of School Superintendents asked the NYSPHSAA if Section 5 could change the structure of its postseason competition to remove the non-public schools.

   The superintendents' push -- aimed at all the area's private schools but indisputably triggered by the recent success of Aquinas -- triggered a fresh round of discussion. The issue of private schools competing alongside public schools has been discussed for decades. Of the 783 high schools in the NYSPHSAA -- the state's largest sanctioning body for high school sports -- about 10 percent are non-public or charter schools.

   A week after the story broke, Section 5 officials announced at a regularly scheduled meeting that no immediate changes were forthcoming and conceded that a study of possible "parallel tournaments" to separate the private and charter schools from the rest of the section had been put in mothballs because of logistical concerns.

   Adding to the superintendents' aggravation, Aquinas took its success to historic levels.

[ Continued on Page 2 ]

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