For the first time since mid-March, Nassau County high school athletes are back competing against each other as the long-anticipated season for low- and moderate-risk winter sports got off the ground this month despite rising Covid-19 numbers.
Bowling, gymnastics, track and field, fencing, swimming/diving and air rifle began practice Jan. 4. High-risk winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheerleading remain on hold and are subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval or disapproval.
At Baldwin, the Bruins are competing in three sports this winter: bowling, track and field and rifle. Participation numbers are down across the board. The boys’ bowling team is looking for a third straight conference title.
“It’s a very different year,” said boys’ and girls’ bowling coach Nick LaForgia, who noted there’s no JV programs this winter. “We had 35 kids last year between both teams and right now we have 11 eligible.”
Baldwin competes in Conference 5 along with Oceanside, Freeport and Roosevelt. Matches are scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays at Baldwin Lanes. Coaches and bowlers must wear a mask at all times, including when its their turn to bowl.
“Wearing a mask has become second nature for almost a year now and none of the kids have mentioned it or complained,” LaForgia said.
The county’s track and field schedules had to be revamped after the county was notified by St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington it would be unable to host meets inside its fieldhouse. Instead, Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau high school athletics, moved to Plan B, which calls for outdoor meets at high schools. At the very least, the first few weeks will be strictly virtual.
“My heart goes out to the seniors because everything is so tenuous,” Bruins boys’ track coach Rich Carroll said. “Our guys didn’t take the news of competing outside very well, but they’re handling the mask rule very well.”
Carroll said the roster is down from 50 last season to somewhere in the low 30s. Only a half dozen made it to the opening week of practice. Low turnout is also a serious concern for Baldwin’s girls’ track program.
For virtual track meets, teams will perform at their home sites with one official present. Times for running events and measurements for distance events will be input into a countywide database. Masks will be required of all coaches and athletes at all times.
“I’m pretty excited since it’s been a long time since I competed,” said senior captain Carlos Pinckney, who competes in the 600. “But, I’m a little more concerned about injury since we’re going to be outside in the cold.”
Baldwin is one of only eight teams in Nassau competing in Air Rifle. Coach Mike Palumbo said the roster is 16-deep, half of which are varsity shooters and all of which are strong students.
On hold indefinitely are basketball, wrestling, cheerleading and hockey, the four winter sports deemed “high risk.” After bumping the potential start date three times, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it will not put another target date on those sports to begin. It will await further guidance from the Governor’s office. “At this time there is no definitive timeline for authorization of high-risk sports to resume competition,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas tweeted Jan. 6.
Baldwin boys’ basketball head coach Darius Burton has conducted offseason workouts twice weekly and is “keeping his fingers crossed” regarding the possibility of a season. The Bruins are the defending Nassau Class AA champs.