Prom playoffs sports image

Tennis and track athletes have been balancing prom and postseason for many years.

Prom vs. playoffs.

That’s what many Scarsdale athletes felt they were forced to choose between this spring as this year’s prom date was moved from the traditional Thursday after Memorial Day, which this year would have been June 2, to Thursday, May 19, when June 2 was not available at the district’s preferred venue, Glen Island in New Rochelle.

While this was discussed back in February, it became a reality last month and parents and athletes are determined not to have it happen again as this year it directly impacted girls lacrosse and softball on the actual prom date. (Baseball did not make postseason and boys lacrosse, girls flag football and boys tennis played the next day, which some then complained that those contests conflicted with post-prom activities.)

When prom is held at its normal time it typically conflicts with boys tennis states and track and field state qualifiers. Over the years, those elite athletes have competed and then headed to prom, missing out on pre-prom photos, tennis from Queens, track from Arlington.

That timing hasn’t impacted other Scarsdale teams over the years since they hadn’t won Section 1 titles and thus did not advance to state tournaments.

On Friday, June 3, the Maroon & White board sent a letter to the administration requesting that all future proms be held on “a date that will not conflict in any way with athletic team playoffs or any other equally important after-school activities.” For the school years ending from 2023 to 2028, all state tournaments are scheduled to wrap up by June 10, they wrote, requesting prom be after that time.

“We feel strongly that students should never be forced to choose between prom and similarly meaningful events, including spring playoffs,” the board wrote, citing wellness as a major concern.

High school principal Ken Bonamo responded to the letter, giving some of the same details as he had in an interview with the Inquirer back in March (https://bit.ly/39womz5), further laying out the difficulties of picking a prom date that would not conflict with any other events, listing everything going on following June 10 next year — and every day from June 12 through graduation day there is a conflict for at least some students.

The 2023 prom is set for Thursday, June 1 and will directly conflict with boys tennis states, the track and field state qualifier, and the baseball state tournament, in addition to any games that might be held the next day.

Bonamo wrote that a major concern with having prom earlier than a Thursday is the potential for seniors not returning for Senior Options that week. Friday events are more expensive and staffing becomes an issue. Having prom during testing presents issues as well.

“I surveyed fellow principals in Westchester about their prom dates, and 16 responded,” Bonamo wrote. “Of those, 14 were scheduled for June 10 or earlier. Only two schools scheduled their proms after June 10.”

Bonamo also said prom will not be held after graduation as the graduates will be considered alumni.

Four parents and three students from the girls lacrosse team spoke in the first public comment section at the Monday, June 6, Board of Education meeting, pleading with the administration to move the prom date so it doesn’t interfere with any other events for students.

Father of five and Maroon & White board member Vincent Franco said it “was so unfair” and that he “saw a lot of turmoil,” with many of the complaints being directed toward Maroon & White to step in. He said having prom and sports coinciding doesn’t make sense and that of the 19 people he spoke to in the Tri-State area and beyond, “Nobody has ever had this kind of conflict.”

Franco worried that the district finds “athletics not important,” noting both sports and prom are part of the “totality of the experience,” and forcing students to choose is “not fair” when there is supposed to be a focus on mental health.

Deb Franco showed a petition with over 450 signatures from parents who want to see the date changed.

“We can do better,” she said. “Don’t make the seniors make that choice anymore. It was devastating and we can do better. We can work together and make this work with the administration, with you guys, with parents. We can make this happen so nobody has to feel this way again.”

Rose Hoey, who has over 30 years’ experience as a school psychologist, said she has insight into the COVID-19 pandemic as to “what’s going on with children” and “the kind of impact and the kind of stressors that have been going on over the last two years that we have just pushed through and we pushed through.” She credited athletic director Ray Pappalardi who had his “heart” into moving the team’s road playoff game at Fox Lane, but could only get it moved form 4:30 to 3:30 p.m.

“The girls wanted to be able to do whatever they could do to do both because letting down their team…was very difficult,” Hoey said. “It’s not just the eight girls who went to prom — it’s the team. That’s the whole point of being involved in sports is to learn leadership and to learn how to be part of a group and to sacrifice something for the better of that whole. It was a very difficult decision to think about not going to that right of passage.”

Scarsdale lost the game 11-10 in the quarterfinals with several backups playing for the starters and players called up from junior varsity. The season ended, Hoey said, “prematurely due to the lack of eight starters.”

(Note: Six of the team members, including all four seniors, who went to prom skipped the game, while two juniors opted to go from the game to prom.)

Tara Greco, who has three kids graduating between 2023 and 2027, said she contacted the district about the conflict back in February and again when the team made postseason. “This situation caused a tremendous amount of undue stress and anxiety for the girls, their dates, their teammates and all of the families involved,” Greco said, adding, “Please do not create conflicts that the students cannot change, but have to choose between. Please consider moving the prom date so seniors do not have to choose.”

Senior Chinasa Ohajekwe had a unique situation. Though she is the backup goalie, she is also part of student government and helped plan the prom, along with other activities like the senior play and 100 Days Until Graduation.

“I realize I did it voluntarily, but I did give up a significant amount of time,” she said. “Instead of watching football games I was grilling in the back. Small things like that that do make up a senior’s experience at Scarsdale High School. On the other hand, I made a promise to the Scarsdale varsity girls lacrosse team that I would be there for them, so I was placed in a very uncomfortable situation that I had to choose between.”

Ohajekwe chose prom with the other three seniors on the team. “My teammates will say that they understand my decision, but we lost by one and that still weighs with me,” she said. “It’s not only that that was my last game, it’s that we could have continued, but we didn’t have the opportunity to because we were put in a decision that was out of our control.”

Mental health was also on Ohajekwe’s mind: “… to put a student … in a situation where they have to choose between what is supposed to be one of the best nights of their high school life and supporting a team isn’t supporting student mental health at all.”

Senior Haley Matusz said she would “really do anything” for the field hockey and lacrosse teams “having sacrificed so much” for the teams, but being forced to choose put her and others in a bad spot.

“In my brain I’m always going to say, ‘What if I did show up and I was there for my team?’ but I was put in an awkward position to give up another major event in my life or go to a big playoff game and I think it was really unfortunate and I would never want anyone or one of my teammates, my little sisters, I’m so close with them, I would not want them to go through the same thing,” she said. “I just want to prevent this for anyone else because I know they had issues with the year before.”

Sophomore Nina Franco said the team “knew we could win” and make the semifinals, but, “It was really hard without our four starters.”

Interim Superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick thanked the students for sharing their perspectives and noted the district invites further conversations with community members and groups on the topic.

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