Though it was a challenge at the time, Scarsdale coach Jennifer Roane now knows how good she had it in the fall. Going from coaching tennis outdoors with very little close contact and equipment sharing to gymnastics indoors with 100 percent equipment sharing is a complete 180 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Where should I begin?” she said when asked to compare the two.
Logistics is one of the main challenges. The team will be at Scarsdale High School for outdoor strength and conditioning workouts on Mondays, the YWCA in White Plains Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Westchester Gymnastics Wednesdays and Fridays, each for an hour — shorter than last year’s time slot — by cohort based on who was in school that day.
“They get more attention that way, absolutely, but I think it would be better if we could meet with them more,” Roane said. “Two days a week is not enough and the gyms are very restrictive.”
The different gyms have different rules and require different forms in addition to the forms the student-athletes need to submit to the school, plus the daily health screening and temperature checks.
And since the gymnasts who are in school each day leave at 12:05 p.m., they are required to get their own transportation to practice as going back to the school to take a bus would not get them to the off-site locations on time as they get dismissed at 3:05.
Monday was the first day of practice and there was one gymnast. Tuesday there were four. Roane expects to have around 15 gymnasts on the team this winter. There have already been delays with gold card approval and quarantines, some due to out-of-state travel.
The Raiders have not had a home gym in many years due to construction and repurposing of facilities at the high school and as road warriors they will not be able to participate in virtual meets this winter. They will travel to any team or facility willing to host them among the fewer than 10 gymnastics programs in Section 1, many of which have also lost their space at their schools due to the pandemic. Buses will be provided for competitions, but unlike last year — a historic best for the team — Roane will not be able to field A and B teams. Instead, she’ll be restricted to bringing only the girls who will be competing that day.
Home spectators may be allowed at some facilities, but Scarsdale will not be permitted any as the road team, which will also make senior night, typically at Ossining, one of the schools without its gym, yet another challenge for Roane.
“They don’t want extra people in the gym just hanging around,” Roane said. “It’s the totally opposite of tennis and the opposite of last winter for us.”
After graduating four seniors, returning this year are seniors Ella Isak, Charlotte Bonanno, Dylan Tuchman, Maddie Seltzer and Julia Kushnick; juniors Moa Kulle, Ana Salzinger, Claire Scarcella and Emily Shawn; and sophomores Daphne Boockvar, Adriana Cha and Alexandra Schwartz. Roane called the group “a nice mix.”
The numbers for the program are solid, but Roane had hoped for more girls, especially more than the two freshmen she has signed up.
“I am sure parents are concerned about an indoor sport,” Roane said. “For gymnastics they have to have the mask on all the time. When they’re doing their floor routine they can take it off. Other than that they have to have it on and we have to clean the equipment after every use. It’s a lot different from tennis.”
What has not changed is the excitement of the gymnasts to train, compete and be together. Last spring Roane had two boys tennis seniors who did not get to complete their high school careers. In the fall her girls tennis seniors appreciated making it all the way through and this winter she has five senior gymnasts who will have a chance, assuming the season doesn’t get cut short.
Novice meets and postseason have already been eliminated for the sport.
Roane was preparing for official practices in December and two hours after a late-November Zoom with her team she got an email from athletic director Ray Pappalardi alerting her of the postponement of the state-approved Nov. 30 start to the Section 1 approved January start. “Everything I had just said meant nothing,” Roane said.
Roane has already pushed her first meet from Jan. 19 to the 27th to give the team more time to prepare, but said that even if she only has a handful of girls ready to go she will compete later this month. She doesn’t want to scramble to fit in the entire season in February, as the fall 2 season is slated to start March 1 for girls swim and dive, which had a facilities issue in the fall, and high-risk fall sports (football, volleyball and cheerleading).
While low- and moderate-risk gymnastics, bowling, track, skiing and boys swimming are approved by the state, no high-risk sports have been approved for practices or competitions, so winter sports basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and cheerleading are in a holding pattern with no guarantee they will compete this school year. The same goes for those high-risk fall sports that were pushed to March.
“As someone who coaches an individual sport, even though it really is a team sport, I’m lucky that my kids get to compete and practice,” Roane said. “I told the girls it’s really day by day. It’s not ideal, but the girls seemed excited to be there. I’m glad we can offer something. It’s not going to be like it was last year by any means, but it’s still something.”
Scarsdale’s winter plans
Pappalardi said everything is “constantly evolving to adjust with the changing decisions.” That’s been the reality since the summer, but athletic departments and families have shown the ability and willingness to pivot at any moment in order to provide safe, meaningful opportunities for student-athletes.
In December many Scarsdale winter sports of all risk levels started doing nonmandatory training sessions that had limited or no contact.
While many schools opted to wait until next week to start winter sports, Pappalardi, who runs one of the rare programs that will do most of preseason in cohorts, didn’t see a reason to wait.
“We chose to stumble through this week knowing there would be challenges with gold cards and clearances and practices, but smaller groups allows for us to go through our protocols and make sure they work,” Pappalardi said. “We can make adjustments without creating a problem, so it’s been good for us.”
There are several details and schedules that still need to be worked out, but Pappalardi took a sooner-is-better-than-later approach in getting used to protocols and finding out what works and what doesn’t and that process began in December.
“The good news is we’ve been doing some open workouts,” Pappalardi said. “The great news is the sports have finally started and we’re allowed to train kids formally. The competition is a secondary piece, championships, that’s all bonus. Being able to connect with our kids every day on a regular schedule I think is really what we’ve been looking forward to in our department and I hope that’s what the kids have been looking forward to. We’re hoping to help provide a little normal routine for kids. We know the benefits of physical activity.”
High-risk winter sports will continue to hold nonmandatory workouts until a decision is handed down from Section 1 or New York State.
“I think it’s one step at a time with them when it comes to the higher risk sports,” Pappalardi said. “We’re looking at basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and cheer whether we’re going to be able to do those. That’s a big question mark. If that’s not authorized for winter I think then people are going to worry about fall season 2, and then the spring, the next question mark will be boys lacrosse. People are trying to work through the challenges as they know them and the first known challenge is getting through competitive schedules for the winter season now that the winter season has started.”
The indoor, off-site and longer bus ride components are something Pappalardi is keeping a close eye on. He said the fall was “much easier to manage.”
“It was our rules,” he said. “Whether we were right or we were wrong, and I think we did most things as right as we could, they were our rules. Now we’re trying to manage other people’s rules and dovetail our restrictions from our restart plan into that.”
Like gymnastics, each winter sport comes with its own challenges.
Track and field will be able to compete at the Armory in New York City, but schools are also permitted to schedule and host outdoor meets.
Bowling alleys now have protective barriers between lanes, bowlers will stick to one lane and no spectators will be permitted.
Skiing will have restrictions based on the mountain and lodge rules. Pappalardi said the team has already made one trip to a mountain and that the captains are leading smaller pods of skiers within the cohorts.
Swimming is currently the only sport where athletes will be permitted to be maskless, with the exception of gymnasts on the floor routine. It’s a matter of determining when the masks are allowed to come off and if relays will be allowed and what mask and social distancing protocols would apply.
Swim meets will be virtual with teams competing in their own facility on the same day, with officials, and results must be entered by a certain time that night in order to be merged.
Spectators will likely not be allowed for indoor venues and, while no ruling has been made by the section, the nonschool facilities will have the final word if Section 1 does permit spectators.
“Thankfully all of our off-site facilities have been incredibly accommodating and most of their rules are a little more strict than ours,” Pappalardi said.
While Pappalardi said he doesn’t know how many student-athletes have chosen the remote schooling option after seeing athletes quarantine in the fall, he knows from the athletes themselves that it is indeed happening. Some have decided the two half days of in-person school per week pale in comparison to the potential to increase their chances of having a full athletic experience.
“That’s even more of a reason for us to be there for our kids, if this is the only socialization they’re getting, the only interaction with their peers,” Pappalardi said. “I think that makes us a little more important than we might normally be.”
Edgemont starts next week
Edgemont athletic director Anthony DeRosa opted to hold off a week and start athletics Monday, Jan. 11. Rising COVID numbers and general uncertainty led to his decision.
“I didn’t want to come out of the break blind, not knowing if we were going to be back to normal, if we were going to still be remote,” he said. “I figured give me a week to breathe and kind of assess everything.
“We’re in a totally different COVID landscape now than we were coming back for the school year. Back then COVID was on the decline and we were in a good place. Now everything has spiked with the holidays and travel and more cases. Everything is going up. There’s a lot more heightened sensitivity about what we could or should do.”
For the four sports being offered, DeRosa said “numbers are in line with what they’ve been in the past,” which is a good sign. Edgemont hasn’t done registration for high-risk sports, but once given the go-ahead DeRosa would expedite that process.
“I think my colleagues and I are pretty set on trying to get the seasons in in some way, shape or form should we get approved for the high-risk sports,” he said.
Edgemont also ran some workouts in December until going full remote prior to the holidays. Those workouts for basketball and wrestling will continue. “We want to keep the kids engaged and give them an opportunity to get some work in, knock whatever rust off that they can in hopes that at some point the governor will give us the go-ahead to compete in those sports,” DeRosa said.
Edgemont, which brought gymnastics back as a competitive team officially last winter, will also split time between its high school and an off-site facility, GymCats, and will likely only have road meets.
“It’s a small team as it is and it’s so individualized that they’re not competing in close contact with one another,” DeRosa said. “When they’re on the apparatus they’re not competing directly in close contact with each other and there are cleaning protocols in place. Everybody knows they have to socially distance and wear their masks. I’m comfortable with all the protocols that are in place.”
The boys swimmers will be at Ardsley Middle School for practices and virtual meets as part of the Ardsley/Hastings/Edgemont/Dobbs Ferry/Irvington team; the track team will train at home and have as many outdoor meets as the weather permits, in addition to making use of the Armory for those who are comfortable doing so; and the ski team is waiting on an off-site practice schedule.
“Coaches have their plans in place,” DeRosa said.
While some Edgemont athletes had to quarantine throughout the season, the only negative impacts COVID-19 had on the program were some scheduling changes and the field hockey team not being able to field a team for the first round of playoffs. DeRosa hopes for similar luck in getting through the winter.
“We’re just trying to fight the good fight,” DeRosa said. “The fall was such a success in a lot of ways, so we hope this will all work out.”