WAYNE, NJ – The 2019-2020 school year officially ended in Wayne with the high school graduation ceremonies this week. For these graduating seniors, the last three months will be remembered more for what was lost: Prom, project graduation, the fashion show, the spring musicals and so much that the rest of us took for granted in our final year in school. Most disappointing to the student athletes was the loss of their spring sports season.
Senior athletes in Track and Field, Softball, Golf, Boys Tennis and Boys Volleyball never had their last chance to compete at their peak, to represent their school as captains or top performers, to play and be a part of a team striving for the glory of a championship. Some will go on to play in college, but most will likely never play organized sports like this again.
But for Wayne Baseball players, there was a glimmer of hope when rumors started swirling about the Last Dance Tournament, a statewide competition with over 200 teams participating, created to give seniors that final season they missed out on. Those rumors quickly turned to reality and now two Wayne teams will get their chance to take the field beginning on July 14.
It was the baseball coach at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, Mike Murray, who began to organize the tournament. He wanted to give seniors something of a 2020 baseball season and a chance at closure as they put their high school careers behind them.
“We are only looking to help bring these boys together to play ball one last time,” Murray said on the tournament’s registration form. “We want to use baseball as a sanctuary in a return to our new normal.”
Wayne will have two teams in the tournament, the Wayne Hills PAL and the Wayne Valley PAL teams. Although these teams are named after their respective high schools, and consist of upperclassmen from their respective varsity teams, neither is directly affiliated with their school. This is because this is not a NJSIAA sanctioned event. The United States Specialty Sport Association, a Florida-based governing body, is sanctioning the tournament instead and it is considered a youth sporting event, not a high school event.
It was two parents of Wayne seniors that helped organize the two teams. Steve Rubino helped put the Wayne Hills PAL team together and Sev Paso did the same for Wayne Valley.
“I was told the school and coaches didn't want to do the tournament because of the coronavirus,” Rubino said. “So, I took it upon myself to try to put the team into the tournament.” His biggest motivation was to give his son, Stefano the opportunity to play, along with all the other seniors at Wayne Hills.
Rubino couldn’t do this on his own, so he reached out to Steve Schiffman, Executive Director of the Wayne PAL, who supported him “100 percent.”
Because the tournament is considered a youth sporting event, the teams are not allowed to use school-issued uniforms or equipment. In response, Schiffman is buying jerseys and hats for Rubino’s team and giving them a field to practice on.
Once the Wayne Hills PAL team was formed, other parents from town contacted Rubino to ask how to get into the tournament, which led to the formation of the Wayne Valley PAL team.
They will begin the tournament in a bracket with two other baseball teams: the Gladiators, which consists of players from DePaul Catholic and other schools in the area, and the fourth is a team made up of the varsity players from Fair Lawn High School.
Play begins at Kane Field next Tuesday, July 14 in Secaucus at 10 a.m. with the Wayne Valley PAL taking on the Gladiators and Fair Lawn squaring off against the Wayne Hills PAL at 1 p.m.
The winners of Tuesday’s games will face off at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 15. Whoever wins that game will play the winner of the Paramus region, which consists of Paramus, Hackensack, Ridgewood and River Dell on Thursday. With three-quarters of the over 200 teams eliminated after three games, new brackets will form, and a new schedule will be announced.
The health risks of playing during a global pandemic is a concern for all involved, and Rubino told TAPintoWayne that the rules of the tournament prioritize player health. “The way [the tournament] is doing it, they’re very, very safety-oriented,” he said.
Some of these safety measures include players and coaches wearing masks in the dugout, parents signing COVID-19 waivers allowing their sons to play and trainers conducting temperature checks on game day. Spectators are also expected to follow the state’s public health guidelines.
It took some time to organize but now, with all the logistics worked out, the teams from Wayne are excited to take the field and play ball. The boys of summer are back and will step out on to the fields on Tuesday for one last shot at glory.