Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Long Island went ahead of the curve on Tuesday, as Suffolk and Nassau counties, sections 11 and 8, respectively, canceled the spring sports season.
According to the Suffolk County government website Wednesday morning, there were more than 29,000 confirmed cases. In Nassau, there were more than 31,000 cases. Westchester County was approaching 25,000.
In a statement on its website, Section 11 said, “After much discussion and consideration, the Section XI Athletic Council has voted unanimously to cancel the spring sports season for 2020 at all levels. This decision was made in the best interest of the health and safety of all of our student-athletes, staffs and communities. The decision was not an easy one to make, however, in what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make.”
Section 8 posted, “After careful consideration, Section VIII has decided that the 2020 spring sports season will be canceled for both senior high and middle school sports. The health and safety of the student-athletes, district staffs and communities of Nassau County remain our top priority and was the driving force behind this difficult decision. We look forward to continuing to serve our athletic community, and to brighter days ahead. Stay safe!”
While Section 1’s New Rochelle was the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in early March, New York City (approaching 140,000) and Long Island have far surpassed Westchester County in the total number of positive cases. With New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo closing the state’s schools in two-week increments — the current closure extends through May 15 — New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio attempted to shut down city schools for the remainder of the school year, but Cuomo stepped in and said it was the governor’s decision, not the mayor’s, even though odds are high that students will not return to school to finish the 2019-20 school year in person.
In Section 1, administrators, athletic directors, coaches and athletes are still holding out hope for some sort of competitive season.
“We feel it’s very important to try and put together some scenarios where we can have an abbreviated season,” Edgemont athletic director Anthony DeRosa said. “There are some committees within the section putting together the framework for those seasons depending on potential dates that we go back to school. If we can get back by the 15th and there’s a scenario where there’s no restrictions on social distancing and we’re able to have some sort of season, the athletic directors in Section 1 are committed to making that happen, especially for the seniors.”
Depending on their own days of school missed prior to Cuomo mandating schools close on March 18 (initially to April 1, currently to May 15), athletic programs had varying numbers of preseason practices. Edgemont had four, while Scarsdale had none as schools closed the first day of preseason, March 9, after a faculty member at the middle school tested positive for coronavirus. To level the playing field, each sport would need six practices upon return, with baseball being the exception at 10 days due to pitching regulations.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association had previously announced it was waiving the seven-day rule — you can’t practice/compete more than six days in a row — so teams will be permitted to practice and compete without breaks upon return.
“When we started this we didn’t want to be in this place, but we planned for it,” Scarsdale athletic director Ray Pappalardi said. “It was 10 days, then two weeks out, then when the governor started to postpone it we had April 1, April 15, May 1, May 15, June 1. We have scalable plans in place that focus first on the extent that we can hold a competitive season between schools and looking at other things we can do to build community within the school.”
NYSPHSAA is also examining what postseason could look like, though many expect state championships would be nixed in order to have a more robust overall local season. Over the winter, many of the remaining state championships were postponed and then canceled when it became clear schools would not reopen soon enough.
“I assume they are going to bag that,” DeRosa said of the state championships. “I don’t see any benefit in it and I think they would much rather give the sections those couple of weeks to try and extend our season. Right now the end date of the spring season is still June 14. We don’t know if that’s going to be extended by the state.”
While it looks less likely that students will have a sports season or return to school — many states have already announced they will not reopen this school year — athletic departments are keeping their student-athletes as engaged as possible during distance learning, social distancing and sheltering in place.
“Our coaches have maintained contact and we have a little variability here with some coaches getting things out every day, some doing two or three times a week, and a lot of them are doing sports-specific drills, but there are also strength and conditioning exercises that people can do without any equipment or very little equipment,” Pappalardi said.
Last week, Scarsdale’s athletic department shifted more toward wellness, in line with what the school had done over spring break. While coaches are still sending out workouts and positive messages, the athletic department banded together to put out a nearly four-minute “Raider Strong!!” video (vimeo.com/408889171) featuring Pappalardi, assistant A.D. Joe DeCrescenzo, the spring varsity head coaches and strength and conditioning coach Devin Hoover.
Track and field coach Rich Clark created the script and boys golf coach Andy Verboys was in charge of post-production work.
“We realized that instead of focusing on the physical fitness and skillfulness of our kids we needed to really focus on the social and emotional pieces,” Pappalardi said. “We needed to make a concerted effort to focus on seniors and the kids we hadn’t been hearing back from who either are new to teams or had not been responding to our attempts to reach out.”
Since Scarsdale never held practices or tryouts, all high schoolers who filed the necessary paperwork and were cleared by the start of spring sports are currently on the varsity rosters to keep everyone united and in the loop.
“We’ve got a pretty coherent message now about what’s special about athletics and what things you learn from athletics,” Pappalardi said. “The way we respond to this COVID-19 challenge, we’ve been preparing our whole lives for this and we’ll get through this together. That’s the message coming from the coaches and we’re hoping the athletes feel the same way.”
Edgemont’s coaches have been using the sportsYou app to keep in touch with athletes. DeRosa guided coaches to send individualized workouts on Mondays and on Thursdays more sports-specific content, along with constant “encouraging remarks to keep them going.”
“Sports are a huge portion of a student-athlete’s life,” DeRosa said. “I think sports mean a lot to these kids and being part of a team means a lot to these kids. Having that connection that they built with their coaches when they’ve been with the coaches a year or two, to continue that relationship and to be able to hear from and interact with them is important for the kids.”
Athletic departments have followed the academic distance learning model that has been increasing in intensity as the weeks have gone on.
“Just like anything you need to keep evolving and moving forward and adapting,” DeRosa said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Coaches weigh in
Scarsdale girls lacrosse coaches Art Bonifati and Kaitlin Nolan have been giving workouts through sportsYou, using PLT4M and TeamBuildr for strength and conditioning from Hoover and Alex Greenberg, and Google Classroom so the girls can submit videos and other assignments to the coaches for review. The team also has weekly Zoom meetings “to all stay together.”
The coaches have also been sharing articles on adversity and mental well-being and Nolan started a book club with the team. Together, the girls made a video that makes it look like they are participating in a passing and stick trick drill together.
“Most importantly it’s to let them know that we will get through this together no matter what happens to the season,” Bonifati said.
On the boys side, James Synowiez and his Scarsdale lacrosse coaching staff have a “distance lacrosse” schedule they are updating weekly. There are also videos that break down the game and “explain various nuances in the game of lacrosse” and plays and other concepts the coaches hope to run this season. Ben Miller is the two-time champ of the weekly wall ball challenge using the Synpr Lacrosse app.
“We also have been Zooming with all of the returners in our program once a week,” Bonifati said. “This week we will Zoom with anyone who planned on trying out this spring. I have been in touch with juniors about playing at the next level and all of the uncertainties at this time. Keeping their spirits up and reassuring them that everyone is dealing with the current situation together is at the forefront of importance.”
Jennifer Roane is the longtime Scarsdale boys tennis coach and she’s used to seeing not only her team out on the courts, but the track being used and athletes on the turf at Butler Field creating a positive buzz. “However that is not the case this season,” she said.
Instead, Roane has been in touch with captain Nikolay Sahakyan and there was a Zoom meeting with all 54 players who planned on trying out for the varsity, varsity B and junior varsity teams. “I hope we can salvage some of the season.
Prior to the shutdown, Clark and his staff met with more than 140 student-athletes at an interest meeting in early March. During the closure, Clark assessed each athlete’s strengths and interests and they were split up into virtual groups to work with the different coaches: distance (Clark), middle distance (Vinny Modafferi), sprints/jumps/throws (Doug Rose, Inga DeNunzio, Chris Mullen).
“We meet every Wednesday and will have full team meetings twice a week,” Clark said. “I have shared with the team virtual races put on by Milesplit NY, Pearl River and others.”
Edgemont boys tennis coach Mark Romney saw the irony in the fact that his team had four days on the tennis courts from March 9-12, a time of year the courts are typically either snow-covered or rain-soaked, or it’s too cold to be out there. He and assistant Katie Feinstein were able to select a varsity team of 18 by what turned out to be the final day.
Last year the Panthers won the league for the fifth straight year, made the Section 1 team tournament semifinals and qualified three teams for the sectional doubles draw. Edgemont has Ryan Ho, Will Mellis and Daniel Liu all returning in the singles lineup and there are many potentially top doubles pairings to be made, including newcomer eighth-graders Ethan Wu and Nicholas Peng.
“The profile of this team is a complete contrast to our 2019 team,” Romney said. “That team featured 13 seniors and we played an all-seniors doubles lineup most of the season. This year, we have only one returning senior and 17 underclassmen. I actually believe that the 2020 team, young as it is, would be as good or perhaps even better than last year's team.”
In addition to various technologies, Romney was sure to keep Edgemont tennis tradition alive by sending the team a “wonderful and inspiring” message for former coach and athletic director Jim San Marco, called “Life is a lot like tennis: Virus response — offense, neutral or defense?”
“As always, Jim was spot on in how much we can learn about life from sport and vice versa,” Romney said.
Nikki Rosee and the Edgemont track and field coaches have been posting weekly workouts geared toward the different parts of the team: sprinters, distance, throwers, jumpers, hurdlers, pole vaulters.
“We have been giving the athletes running, strengthening and core workouts while social distancing,” Rosee said. “We have been using an app to communicate with them. We usually post the weekly workouts on Mondays and then one other time throughout the week we check in and/or send articles or motivational quotes or posts.”
Softball coach Larry Giustiniani was elated entering the season with a junior varsity team for the first time in five years as numbers in the program have grown at Edgemont. While that may not pay dividends until next spring, the softball program is taking great strides forward in building from fundamental skills to more advanced strategies.
The focus has been on defensive rotations, cut-offs and small space hitting and throwing mechanics. “We have sent videos that mirror the fundamentals and mechanics that we have taught this group the last few years,” Giustiniani said.
There are also push-up, plank, cardiovascular and stretching regimens.
“I have been encouraging them to understand the benefit of physical exercise, as well as perfecting something like muscle memory involved in throwing or a part of hitting mechanics,” Giustiniani said. “That can really help improve how we feel not only physically, but mentally as well.”