A final decision is not expected to be announced until later this week on whether high school sports will take place in New Jersey this fall, but the chances look very good.

During his COVID-19 update on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy strongly endorsed the idea of moving ahead with many high school sports, saying activities that take place outside are safer than indoor ones, “and with the expanses of fields we can also ensure proper social distancing among parents and spectators, and also among student athletes on the sidelines.”

Murphy was quick to note “the final determination on the fall high school sports seasons will be made by the NJSIAA.”

He said the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is taking extremely seriously “the need for protecting everyone in our school communities, and will only pursue a sports schedule if they feel the proper health and safety requirements can be met.”

The governor said whether a student athlete is participating in remote learning or in-person instruction at school “their ability to participate with their team will not be altered in any way.”

"Whether that student is seated in a socially distanced classroom or at their kitchen table does not matter," Murphy said. "They are a student of that school and they can play for that school.”

Murphy noted schools have the option to not participate in any high school sports this fall if they so choose, and some schools have already made that decision.

State Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, who has served on the executive committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and coaches youth sports, said student athletes need sports in their lives for physical, mental and social well-being.

He said if high school sports are not allowed to take place, student athletes may “fill the void with other extracurricular activities that are not sanctioned by the NJSIAA.”

He stressed by having kids play high school sports "greatly reduces the likelihood that our student athletes will engage in that reckless behavior off the field that could cause the spread of COVID-19.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, who also coaches the Hackensack high school football team, said he’s been coaching varsity football and baseball for more than 30 years, and he believes having high school sports is vitally important.

“The bond that is created in that locker room is something I cannot explain,” he said, “ it’s a bond that transcends all areas, from race, religion, whatever, and guys always come together.”

He stressed that bond is essential because “at this time with the challenges of COVID-19 and the racial unrest here in the country, we need that locker room camaraderie to bring our communities back together.”

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