WESTFIELD, NJ — The shortening of the high school’s athletics schedule, including the cancelation of Westfield High School football team’s season opener against Union, after six students tested positive for COVID-19 has caused disappointment.
What would have otherwise been the Blue Devils’ second game of the season — a contest against St. Joseph High School to be held at Gary Kehler Stadium Oct. 10 — will be the team’s first game of the season, Athletic Director Sandra Mamary said on Thursday.
“There’s really just no room in the schedule,” Mamary said. “That will be our season opener.”
With the season opener against Union previously set for Oct. 2, the team would not have the required time to prepare under the state guidelines, she said. Season openers for the district’s other sports will be rescheduled, Mamary said.
“We’re disappointed, but we can’t dwell on the situation, and we have to move forward,” she said. “So, we’ll start to prepare the kids Oct. 1, hopefully, if we get back. We want to be out there, but we also want to be out there safely.”
The six students, who tested positive for COVID-19, all had cases that were unrelated to each and traced to contacts made outside the schools, according to Westfield Regional Health Department Director Megan Avallone, whose determination the district’s superintendent relayed in a message to parents on Wednesday.
Responding to the new cases and in consultation with the health department, the high school suspended in person learning and extracurricular activities, including sports, for 14 days beginning Thursday.
“Our players and coaches are very disappointed,” said James DeSarno, the school’s head football coach. “They have been working hard and more important making good decisions during this time. They don’t want to lose another season especially our seniors.”
Matthew Sontz, the father of a junior on the football team, said parents are organizing a campaign of emails and phone calls urging the school board to overturn on the decision.
“We’re not seeing how the incidents they’re claiming have occurred have anything to do with the schools or the sports,” Sontz said. “It’s simply a case of overreaction, and it’s hurting our kids.”
Board President Peggy Oster on Thursday indicated the board’s support of Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s decision.
“The board supports Dr. Dolan’s decision to move the High School to remote learning for 14 days and suspend fall sports,” Oster said. “Our primary concern is the health and safety of our students and staff. The Westfield Department of Health advised us that this was the best action to ensure that objective.”
Local health departments in New Jersey base their decisions to recommend school closures on guidance the state Health Department issued this month, which includes steps for various levels of risk.
“Implementation of these public health recommendations should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community,” the guidance says. Among the measures for responding to a COVID-19 case are minimizing and restricting activities that involve multiple people, according to the DOH.
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