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Saranac Lake Placid hockey players Jon Kratts, 8, and Nick Munn celebrate a goal in their team’s win at Beekmantown at the Saranac Lake Civic Center on February 29, 2020. (Enterprise photo Lou Reuter

SARANAC LAKE – Basketball and hockey seasons that looked like they might not happen now seem to be getting closer for the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid high school teams.

The boys ‘and girls’ basketball teams at both schools will start practicing Monday. So are the ice hockey teams, which are combined between the two schools.

Hockey has proven more difficult because the boys and girls play in combined teams made up of student-athletes from different school districts in two different counties. Lake Placid is in Essex County, and the Saranac Lake school district is primarily in Franklin County, and both counties have different COVID-19 regulations to allow for high-risk sports.

The Saranac Lake Placid hockey teams also faced another obstacle: They didn’t have a home track to practice or possible matches. For the past few seasons, the two home courts for the teams have been the Saranac Lake Civic Center and the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, but neither location will be available for use. The Saranac Lake Civic Center never opened this winter, and there will be no more ice on any of the Olympic Center’s three ice rinks starting next week due to the cooling system replacement.

But it appears that the Tupper Lake Central School District has stepped in to help by providing Ice Age exercises at the community center in that village.

Despite the challenges, athletic directors from both school districts are optimistic that a shortened winter season will take place through the month of March.

“There are many pieces to the puzzle, but we’ll get it done,” Said John Burdick, Lake Placid’s director of athletics. “There are still some challenges ahead, but hopefully we can deliver on this and give them a few games in the second half of March and call it a happy season that not many people were expecting.”

Just getting to the planning practice stage required state level approvals. A green light from Governor Andrew Coumo came first, and later the health departments of Essex and Franklin counties approved high-risk sports. Both school boards must also nod to move forward. Lake Placid’s board of directors approved the occurrence of high-risk sports through a 5-1 vote at its monthly meeting on Feb. 16. The Saranac Lake school board is expected to discuss high-risk sports when it meets tonight.

“I’m so excited that our kids will have the chance to move their bodies, have the chance to compete and regain that camaraderie to be part of a team,” said Eric Bennett, athletics director at Saranac Lake.

Saranac Lake will deploy both boys and girls basketball teams. Bennett expects practice to run through the first two weeks of March and games to take place in the second half of the month. He said the varsity teams plan to play seven-game slates, while junior varsity teams are preparing for five games. Bennett added that no matter how many hockey games the boys and girls teams play, those games are all expected to be played in Plattsburgh.

Saranac Lake has some extra hoops to get through before you embark on some risky winter sports. Under Franklin County regulations, all Red Storm athletes must undergo COVID-19 testing before entering their seasons. Bennett said that’s on the agenda for today. Saranac Lake athletes first do a pool test, preferably with 12 per group. If any of these results are positive, those samples are retested to find out who is positive on an individual basis.

Saranac Lake is also required to retest 20% of its high-risk sports students weekly for the duration of the season.

Essex County does not require pre-season testing for student athletes in its counties.

Only varsity teams at Lake Placid will have basketball seasons this winter.

“There’s a lot going in here,” Burdick said. “Most importantly, even though it will be a short season, we just wanted to give this experience to those who are short of time, especially the seniors.”

Both schools participated in Nordic and Alpine skiing this winter. Unlike hockey and basketball, these are considered lower risk sports by the state.

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