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, and swimming/diving 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 Seaford, the Vikings are competing in two sports this winter: bowling and track and field. Both the girls’ and boys’ bowling teams are coming off a county championship run. They got the season rolling Jan. 11.
“We have an amazing group of kids who welcomed me,” first-year bowling coach Michael Burns said. “Times are different but they are willing to do everything they need to do to have a season.”
Seaford competes in Conference 7 along with Wantagh, MacArthur, Island Trees, Plainedge and Division. Matches are scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays at South Levittown. Coaches and bowlers must wear a mask at all times, including when its their turn to bowl.
“It’s a lot different than you’d think because teams are not bowling on the same pair of lanes, so you don’t know the scores of your opponent,” Seaford senior Joseph Gallagher said. “As far as bowling with a mask, it doesn’t bother me at all.”
At Wantagh, the Warriors are competing in all sports given the green light to be played. 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.
“There are definitely a lot of adjustments,” said Wantagh boys’ and girls’ track coach Elizabeth Henry, who noted the roster is around its typical size of 20 boys and 20 girls. “The kids were a little surprised about the meets moving outdoors, but they train outside during the winter anyway unless there’s ice or very cold weather,” she said.
For the virtual track meets, teams will perform at different sites, likely their respective school grounds with one official present. Times will input into a countywide database. Masks will be required of all track coaches and athletes at all times.
“Practices are going fairly well,” said Seaford boys’ and girls’ track coach Kimberly Cooke, who said the rosters stand at about 20 apiece. “The kids are excited to be with their friends and they’re all following protocols.”
Wantagh gymnastics coach Lindsey Panza is carrying a roster of 7, down about half the size from last season. She said as of now, none of the Warriors’ meets will be virtual. Gymnasts must wear a mask at all times when not on the equipment and have the option of keeping it on while performing, Panza noted.
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.
“We’re all disappointed and trying to stay optimistic,” Wantagh boys’ basketball head coach Joe Harclerode said. “We just have to go with the flow and see if any news comes from the Governor. It’s frustrating to see the surrounding states doing their thing and participating.”
Harclerode said he keeps in touch with kids in the program through group texts and has spoken to members of the varsity individually. “The kids are bummed and if there’s no season we’re all going to miss the bonding,” he said. “We’re hoping to make another nice run and backed up what we did last season.”
Seaford girls’ basketball head coach Bob Vhalakis said even though Gov. Cuomo hasn’t indicated he’s going to change the direction of high-risk sports, he’s trying to remain positive and urging members of the team to do the same. “The girls planning on playing have been working out and going to the park to keep their skills sharp,” Vhalakis said. “They enjoy being together as a team. I think if it turns out we don’t play, some of them might run track.”