To slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday issued Executive Order 204, which requires postponement of all indoor youth sports, including interscholastic competition, until Jan. 2. For high school and middle schools, the practical impact of the order is a delay in the start of the ice hockey season, affecting 3,631 students at 134 schools. The starting dates for other indoor interscholastic sports had been previously postponed to January or later by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Executive Order 204 goes into effect Dec. 5 and ends on Jan. 2.

“Youth sports, in particular, (have) presented a challenge as we have seen a number of outbreaks related to these activities,” Dr. Ed Lifshitz, medical director of the state’s communicable disease services, said at a press conference Monday.  At least 20 outbreaks, responsible for more than 100 cases, are tied to youth hockey alone, he said. 

Murphy said he hopes to allow all indoor sports to begin in January, and he called the postponement “a prudent, short-term step” to slow the alarming increase in COVID cases in the state. 

The NJSIAA released a statement that explained the practical impact of the governor’s action. 

“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,” the NJSIAA said. 

“No other indoor, high school sports are impacted by the governor’s order, as all but ice hockey had already had their start dates moved to January 2021 or later,” the NJSIAA’s statement continued. “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. NJSIAA looks forward to working with the governor and his staff in this regard.” 

According to the NJSIAA’s website, scholastic basketball, fencing and bowling teams may start practices on Jan. 11, with competition beginning on Jan. 26. Practices start for swimming and track and field on Feb. 1. Gymnastics, wrestling and girls’ volleyball teams are scheduled to start practice on March 1.