By Andrew Garda
The high school winter sports season took another step back on Monday as Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the season would be delayed until at least Jan. 4.
The order affects not just high school athletics, but all indoor sports, from youth-level to adult leagues.
“Indoor sports practices and competitions, including group, competitive and/or organized sporting activities for youth and adults, will be prohibited starting Saturday, Dec. 5, at 6 a.m. until Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021,” the governor’s office said in a release.
Collegiate and professional sports will not be affected, nor will fitness classes, lessons and training at gyms, studios and similar locations.
The announcement comes 12 days after the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced start dates for high school indoor sports such as hockey, fencing and basketball.
Montclair Kimberley Academy hockey head coach Tim Cook said the team is disappointed but knows and supports the reasons for the delay.
“Governor Murphy’s decision is obviously a tough one for our team as we are looking forward to getting on the ice, but we understand there are things bigger than hockey,” Cook said. “If delaying the season keeps people safer and makes it possible for us to get a season in after the New Year, then we are all for it.”
Most winter sports had been slated to begin practice and competition after the Jan. 4 date set by Murphy, with the one exception being ice hockey, which was to start practicing on Dec. 14, with games to start on Jan. 4. Both Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy’s hockey teams will be impacted; the NJSIAA has not released any revised schedule for the hockey season.
The NJSIAA had split winter sports into three groups, with ice hockey, basketball, fencing and bowling labeled Season 2, swimming and indoor track and field labeled Season 2a and wrestling in Season 3 along with two fall sports that were moved before the school year began, gymnastics and girl’s volleyball.
While hockey was to start on Dec. 14, the rest of Season 2 was scheduled to start practice on Jan. 11 and competition on Jan. 26. Season 2a was to start practice on Feb. 1, with competition starting on Feb. 16. Season 3 had a practice start date of March 1, with competition starting on March 16.
While the NJSIAA has not made any announcements regarding a shifting of those schedules, Montclair athletes now have to wait and see if their seasons will be delayed once again, like their hockey-playing classmates.
The NJSIAA issued a statement reacting to the governor’s announcement.
“NJSIAA is aware of the governor’s announcement regarding indoor sports and can confirm that it will impact the start of the high school ice hockey season. We’re hopeful that, with schedule modifications, the ice hockey season will be viable when the state’s pause is lifted,” they wrote.
The organization said that despite the delay, they know the state wants to let kids play.
“The governor has made it clear that he wants high school winter sports to be played, based on the significant mental and physical health benefits they provide and in recognition of the seniors who desire one more season of the sports they love,” they wrote. “NJSIAA looks forward to working with the governor and his staff in this regard.”
Murphy had said that in his remarks on Monday.
“I’m a huge sports fan, and all of our kids play sports,” he said. “I hope and intend to see the winter sports season in January. I want to see especially that high school senior get to play her or his last season. And I value the importance of sports for the physical and mental well-being of our children.”