MILLBURN, NJ — Since the March closure of schools due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Millburn High School athletic community has been praying for some sort of return to normalcy. However, on May 4, hope for a return to play was extinguished when Governor Murphy announced that schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year, resulting in the cancellation of all high school spring sport programs.
While many expected this outcome, it still does not lessen the blow of losing sports any more. TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills spoke with several spring sports coaches and administrators to hear their reactions regarding the elimination of their seasons.
Athletic Director Frank Bifulco was one of many who, early on, was optimistic that some sort of spring schedule would take place. He shared his reaction when he heard spring sports would not happen.
“Honestly I was devastated, not only for myself, but mostly for our hardworking coaches, our outstanding student athletes, and our invested parents who live on every play/action their child participates in," Bifulco said. "I truly felt for all of them.”
As the supervisor of all athletics at Millburn, Bifulco is invested in every season. He believes there is something special about the spring in particular, which makes it so hard to see it go.
“Each season brings its own unique qualities and the spring brings nice weather, more people, and a renewed feeling of life for the remainder of the school year, where juniors begin sensing their move into being seniors, and for seniors it meant a way to finish out strong and prepare for life after high school," Bifulco said. "This season, unfortunately, did not have that.”
This being his first full 4-year class as Athletic Director, Bifulco spoke nothing but pride and optimism for the seniors as they move into the next phase of their lives.
“To our seniors, I am truly proud of everything you were able to accomplish. There is a swell of positive energy and excitement I have for all of you as you move onto the next phase in your academic and athletic careers.”
Girls Varsity Softball Coach Sarah Pallino had a similar reaction. “I was just so disappointed because I was holding on to the hope that we were going to have a sort of season,” she said.
“I loved the noise and the camaraderie that we always had," Boys Varsity Volleyball Coach Jason Robinson said. "I am going to miss seeing the fight in the team when our backs are against the wall.”
After last season, his first as Head Coach, Robinson loved what he saw in his team. He noted the togetherness and will to win that was evident in his squad. Now that a promising second year ended before it even had a chance to begin, Robinson is devastated that he can not see the growth of his players and team as a whole.
“I hate that I can not see the old guys doing their thing, and the young guys learning from them,” Robinson added.
Despite the cancelation, Robinson is stressing the importance of his team continuing to improve themselves as individuals.
“We discussed, especially with the underclassmen,” Robinson stated, “that those who continue will get better and if you want it you’ve got to keep going and working.”
Pallino is taking a similar approach as Robinson, urging her girls not to slack off.
“It's important that the players still train so that they don't lose everything they worked for in the off season," she said. "For most, athletics is an outlet for whatever else is going on in their lives, so now more than ever it is vital everyone continues to work out not just for the physical aspects, but their mental well-being.”
Pallino commented on her graduating players missing out on their last season, and noted that the immediacy of having sports ripped away is never easy, but is especially hard on her seniors, and those in other sports
“I can't imagine being a senior and losing your last season, especially those who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into their training over the years,” Pallino said. “For the seniors this year, hopefully you're able to look back at the previous seasons and appreciate the time you had on the field with all of your previous teammates. Those are the memories that will last.”
Along the same lines, Robinson voiced the pain he felt for the seniors, but believes there is a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
“There is generally a tangible reward for hard work, there will be from this too. It’s just going to take a while to see what you learned about yourself and how you will apply it.”