Any chance of a spring sports season at public high schools on Long Island ended on Tuesday afternoon.
Nassau and Suffolk County school superintendents and athletic administrators announced the cancellation of the spring sports season amid health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I feel terrible for our seniors, as we all do," Jericho superintendent Hank Grishman said. "Kids are missing out on so many levels, so many activities, and we all remember our last season of sports in our senior year. That last season is so significant in saying goodbye to your high school. We knew probably two weeks ago that we didn't have a choice. We held off as long as we possibly could. It's the right decision, yet a very painful one."
Administrators in both counties met earlier this week and concluded that any spring season — even a shorter, modified one — would be unrealistic.
Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director of Section VIII, which governs Nassau schools, said: “This pandemic is bigger than high school sports. Our primary concern is our students and our communities. We’re the second most prevalent area in the state with the COVID-19 infection, according to the governor. He said he was going to open various regions of the state at some point, based on the hospitalization rate. Long Island is [second in] the hospitalization rate in the entire state. New York City is [first] and they are our neighbors.
“Even if there was a miracle, how are we expected to play sports and practice social distancing? It’s not possible. We need to protect our kids.”
Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, which governs Suffolk schools, said: “We had hoped that we could get back to school and salvage some kind of a shortened spring season, but that’s just not possible. The health and safety of our people in Suffolk is more important than anything. Our Athletic Council felt it was the prudent decision to make in canceling spring sports at this time . . . The 33 members of our Athletic Council present at the meeting voted unanimously that this was the responsible thing to do.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week extended the state’s stay-at-home policies through May 15, meaning that school buildings will be shuttered until at least that date. It remains possible that schools will reopen, but the decisions made Tuesday mean public schools will not compete in sports.
“We feel that in making this decision now — instead of waiting — that we are being mindful of our families and communities and not giving them false hope,” Pizzarelli said. “We waited as long as we possibly could to make this heartbreaking decision.
“It’s time for our students to learn the reality of our situation and this is life and death — this is very real in our lives,” he added. “This is not normal and we need to move forward, unfortunately without a spring sports season.”
For the Long Island student-athletes whose hopes for a spring season were snuffed, there was only disappointed resignation.
Long Island Catholic schools have made no final decision on their spring sports season, according to Nassau-Suffolk Catholic High School Athletic Association president and St. John the Baptist athletic director Ralph Dalton.
Like the public schools, Catholic school buildings are closed until at least May 15. Should schools reopen, the CHSAA members will decide individually whether to compete in sports. If they elect to have a spring season, they already have clearance to compete until June 30.
“We have not made a determination on the future of spring sports at this time,” Dalton said.
Nassau’s Athletic Council — which has representation from superintendents, principals and athletic officials — was unanimous in its decision at a meeting Monday night, and Pizzarelli said everyone who attended a Tuesday morning meeting of athletic directors stood together in agreement. Suffolk’s Athletic Council came to the same conclusion at a Tuesday afternoon meeting.
“I’ve received a number of emails from parents and senior athletes pleading we keep the season alive, but we just can’t do it,” Pizzarelli said. “We lived through [the] Sept. 11 [terrorist attack] — and I detest to compare that tragedy to this — but this is also on an epic scale of tragic consequences.”
High school coaches across the Island learned the news Tuesday and made the painful preparation to share it with their teams.
“Obviously, I don’t get a face-to-face, which makes it even more difficult,” Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse coach Mike Taylor said. “So I’m sitting here trying to write something and I realize I can’t do this this way. I’m going to have to do a Zoom with them. It’s going to be emotional for the kids. I’m so disappointed.”
Combs and Pizzarelli said late last week that even with the move to May 15, it would be possible to schedule some sort of a truncated season and possibly even hold a Long Island championship in all sports. Both, however, said public health remained the top priority.
The spring sports that will not be played include softball, baseball, boys and girls track, boys and girls lacrosse, boys tennis, boys and girls golf and boys and girls badminton.