Following a hectic and confusing three-plus days, the New York State Class AA Far West Regional final was finally played on Tuesday night between Section V’s McQuaid and Section VI’s Bennett at Williamsville South High School.
The game — originally scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. — was postponed due to players and a coach from McQuaid having tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. On Tuesday morning, a New York State Supreme Court ruled that the game could go on as previously scheduled on Tuesday night. The game was originally postponed after a judge approved a restraining order from McQuaid, which had halted the Erie County Department of Health’s decision to enforce it’s rule that only vaccinated players could play in the game following the positive tests. Bennett has argued that McQuaid should have been forced to forfeit the game due to the regulations and guidance put into place by the Erie County Department of Health.
During a press conference early Tuesday afternoon, Bennett head coach Steven McDuffie said that his team would play the game Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, McQuaid had issued a statement earlier on Tuesday stating, in part:
“We are grateful that the New York State Regional Quarterfinal football game will be decided on the field by the student-athletes from both Bennett High School and McQuaid Jesuit who have worked hard all season for this opportunity. Additionally, we are thankful to the members of our team who have patiently adhered to all the testing protocols to ensure the utmost health and safety not only for themselves but for their opponents. We look forward to what should be a highly competitive and entertaining game this evening,” the statement said.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association temporarily had decided to postpone — not forfeit the game in favor of Bennett – on Saturday.
On Tuesday it was ruled that unvaccinated players could play in the game if they tested negative for COVID-19, while anyone who has tested positive in the recent round of testing could not play. Following the positive tests from McQuaid last week, the team immediately went into a quarantine and if the most recent tests for the virus come back negative, those players would be allowed to participate.
This comes on the heels of a similar instance happening to Bennett during the spring football season.
In May, a COVID outbreak at the Buffalo High School forced the team into a pause. Like McQuaid, Bennett appealed to Section VI to allow it to reschedule it’s contest — a Class AA semifinal game against Lancaster — though those appeals were denied. Bennett was forced to forfeit the game and cancel the remainder of its season, while Lancaster was awarded a trip to the championship game. This time around, Bennett was arguing that the same fate be given to McQuaid.
On Sunday night, Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash issued the following statement regarding the McQuaid/Bennett situation:
“We have seen a highly disturbing precedent occur with the Bennett/McQuaid football contest case. To date, it does not embody a spirit of equity, fairness, and good sportsmanship. The game clearly should have been forfeited due to the significant Covid-19 outbreak on the McQuaid team. Health and safety must always be the first priority for everyone.
“Neither BPS nor NYSPHSAA have been privy to the injunction documents allegedly filed with the Court. If this case is not heard tomorrow or Tuesday morning and properly resolved, we will call an urgent press conference and invite all relevant local and state authorities to stand with us.
“This is fast unfolding as a racial injustice and inequity issue. I will not tolerate, under any circumstance, victimizing and discounting our student athletes when they have followed all the rules pursuant to this matter. As a District, we are fully prepared to take immediate appellate action to ensure a safe, fair, and just outcome.”
The previous day, McQuaid had issued its own statement regarding the matter and spoke to the timeline of circumstances and decisions that were rendered.
“This afternoon we were informed by Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) that tonight’s New York State Regional Final game would be postponed. This postponement comes after the Honorable Marc A. Montour of Erie County Supreme Court awarded McQuaid Jesuit a temporary restraining order against the Erie County Department of Health this afternoon,” McQuaid Jesuit President Fr. Phil Judge, S.J. said. “On Friday evening, the Erie County Department of Health indicated it would only permit vaccinated McQuaid Jesuit players, coaches, and managers to compete in the Regional Final because some players and an assistant coach tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. The game was scheduled to be played in Williamsville, located in Erie County. Per McQuaid Jesuit’s protocols, the varsity football team was placed on a 72-hour pause for contact practice, effective the evening of Tuesday, November 16, after two members of the team tested positive for COVID-19. With guidance received from the Monroe County Department of Public Health, McQuaid Jesuit tested all players and coaches for three consecutive days beginning Thursday morning. All players and coaches, whether vaccinated or not, were tested Thursday, Friday, and again this morning with negative tests each day required to participate tonight. Testing did result in several more positive cases which have been reported to the Department of Public Health.
“Any members of the program who tested positive were immediately required to isolate. McQuaid Jesuit’s COVID-19 data is publicly available at the NYS COVID-19 School Report Card website. Throughout the testing process, McQuaid Jesuit leadership was in regular communication with the Monroe County Department of Public Health, Section V officials, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, and our counterparts at the Buffalo Public School district. We were prepared to proceed with tonight’s game after ensuring a healthy and safe outdoor environment for all in accordance with recommendations from health officials. McQuaid Jesuit’s players and coaches learned of Zayas’s abrupt postponement while on the buses waiting to depart.
“All of us hope that we can allow our players to safely compete in a game they have worked so hard for. We look forward to that opportunity in the near future.”