LIVINGSTON, NJ — With New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement on Monday that schools would remain closed for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year, part of the collateral damage was the cancellation of a spring sports season that never began.
Livingston spring sports teams were practicing and preparing for pre-season scrimmages when schools were shut down in mid-March
“I think deep down we all thought this was going to happen, but when Gov. Murphy held off a couple of days we were all hoping he might have a trick up his sleeve,” said Livingston High School baseball coach Mickey Ennis said. “It’s no surprise. Honestly, it’s the right decision based on everything we know. We had a Zoom meeting with the team today, and the seniors took it very hard. They’ll never put on a Livingston baseball jersey again, and for some of them, their baseball career is over.”
Although his team would not have played in the spring, Livingston boys soccer coach Roger Rubinetti echoed Ennis’ sentiments about senior athletes.
“It must be devastating for the senior athletes who will lose their senior seasons,” said Rubinetti. “For many of them they will only play at the high school level, and once they graduate they may never play the sport again. They will go off to college and most go to academic-heavy universities where their schedules don't allow them to play a sport. Some will be lucky to play intramurals or club level sports at their colleges, but most will forgo sports for academics...
“Obviously, some of these kids have played a sport or sports their whole lives and this was going to be their farewell season. Some through the years have even given up playing multiple sports to concentrate on just one sport. Some of these kids have been training all school year for their opportunity to play and shine on our athletic fields and for the school.”
Ennis, whose 2018 Livingston team won the Greater Newark Tournament, said that even as the closure of school and the cancellation of sports became more inevitable, it had a profound effect when it became reality.
“It was tough news,” Ennis said. “When it became official it was like a punch in the gut.”
Rubinetti noted then "even organized practices by players only are not permitted." And, while the guidelines that will be necessary to reopen schools loom as extremely complex, so, too, are the parameters by which organized sports would be able to resume.
“What restrictions will they have on a baseball diamond?” Ennis said. “It’s difficult to visualize opening up a sport like baseball in stages, like you do the economy. I am trying to get my head around how and if that can be done with baseball. When you look at stages, do the kids come back into bleachers? How does a first baseman hold a runner on base? Can they say one sport you’re good to go and other sports, no?
"I am concerned because I don’t know how you can bring team sports back in stages. Do they just have to wait longer for the team sports? Are we looking at September? I don’t have an answer, and a lot of other people don’t. We’re all champing at the bit, but we also understand the big picture, that this is much bigger than sports.”
The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association has not addressed any aspects of the fall sports season in schools yet, but the status of fall sports is open to conjecture right now.
“There are concerns about the upcoming fall seasons, too,” said Ennis. “Are we looking at plexiglass between every kid in school? You have to ensure that these kids will be in a safe environment. These school districts have to be on their game when it comes to sanitizing the schools.”
“This is a unique situation,” said Rubinetti. "One which we will never hopefully see again.”
The NJSIAA released an official statement following Murphy's announcement expressing disappointment "for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring."
"While we remained hopeful to the end, and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances," the organization said. “The last few weeks have been heartbreaking on many levels, from the tragic loss of life, to thousands battling the virus, to millions who have suffered emotional and economic loss. It’s been a harrowing time for everyone, and we know our student-athletes are extremely disappointed.
“That said, these unfortunate circumstances may have put an intriguing challenge in the path of our young people. As New Jersey’s own Vince Lombardi once said, ‘It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.’ We’re confident all our kids will get back up and stand tall.
“The NJSIAA will continue developing plans for the potential restarting of scholastic sports during the fall season. Additional information related both to the summer recess and fall will be shared at a later date.”