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Malverne High School coach, athletes lament lost spring season

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It’s game over for public high school spring sports on Long Island for 2020.

Any hopes for even a modified season were dashed on April 21, when health and safety concerns led athletic administrators and school superintendents in Nassau and Suffolk counties to announce the cancellation of the spring sports season.

Malverne High School varsity baseball coach Joe Dunn said his seniors were the first people that came to mind when the announcement was made. “The next reaction was that this is obviously for the best, because everyone’s health and safety is the number one priority,” Dunn said. “I think if you would ask the kids to choose between keeping their families safe and spring sports, they probably would’ve chosen keeping their families safe.”

Dunn added that some of the underclassmen were upset because they had hoped to establish themselves as standout players in their conference. He said he planned to start workouts for the team after the football season this fall. “Hopefully we can salvage the rest of their baseball careers at this level,” Dunn said.

Administrators in both counties met over a 24-hour span beginning April 20, and decided that it was important to act sooner rather than later. Even if public schools reopen, no sporting events will be held. A week earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had extended New York state’s stay-at-home policies through May 15, meaning that school buildings will be closed until at least that date.

“For the safety for our student athletes, Section VIII has made the difficult decision to cancel spring sports for our high schools and middle schools,” Nassau County Section VIII Athletics Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli said. “Long Island is one of the areas most affected by this terrible pandemic, so both Section VIII and Section XI have made this very difficult decision,” he added, referring to Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Malverne High senior Josh Hillel has played varsity baseball since his freshman year. A centerfielder and shortstop, Hillel, 18, said he had hoped to help the Mules make strides this season.

“The first couple of practices, it was starting to look like things were coming together,” he said. “I saw my batting average going up, I was throwing harder, and everything was just looking cleaner. For everything to go away because of the virus was really devastating.”

Hillel said he hoped to continue his baseball career as a walk-on at Baruch College, where he will study business this fall. As for his teammates, Hillel wants them to keep their heads up and to build on what he helped establish.

“I hope everybody stays safe, and that we can get back to normal soon,” he said.

Senior outfielder and second baseman James Habert, 17, was also disappointed to see his high school baseball career end abruptly. “I never imagined anything this happening,” Habert said. “I’ve talked to my teammates, and we’re all just bummed out about this season.”

While his baseball career is over, Habert plans to play soccer at Five Towns College this fall. Last fall, Habert, a midfielder, was named an all-conference player in Nassau County’s A3 Conference.

“It’s very sad for the seniors, but we’re dealing with life and death,” Pizzarelli said. “We have to safeguard our students and communities. We waited as long as we possibly could to make this heartbreaking decision.”

Nassau County’s Athletic Council, which includes superintendents, principals and sports officials, met the night of April 20, and was unanimous in its decision to cancel all spring sports seasons. District athletic directors met the following morning, and agreed.

“It’s sad times. Everyone’s being affected by it,” Dunn said. “We hope that everyone continues to stay safe and use their heads.”