BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Members of the Gov. Livingston High School baseball program who were deprived of a chance to play the 2020 spring season due to the statewide coronavirus shutdown of schools should finally get their chance to play as a team in July.
The Last Dance Baseball Tournament, which will involve well over 200 teams--including a team representing Berkeley Heights and Mountainside--from all over New Jersey participating in a three-week competition that would begin with three days of pool play followed by two weeks' worth of bracket-style playoffs. Every team would be guaranteed at least three games during the pool play portion, which would begin July 14.
The tournament is the brainchild of Mike Murray Jr., the athletic director and head baseball coach at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen. New Jersey continues to reopen in stages after the pandemic shutdown that began in March, wiping out all spring high school sports seasons in its wake.
While all varsity baseball players who lost out on a chance to play in the spring would benefit from a return to the field in July, the tournament has been set up especially for the benefit of Class of 2020 athletes who were robbed of their senior high school baseball seasons but who would now get a final chance--or, at minimum, three final chances--to be back on the field with their teammates.
Club team baseball, which has been cleared to return to playing regular games on July 6, generally takes place on weekends, so the Last Dance Tournament is scheduled for weekdays. However, because the NJSIAA is not allowing high school coaches to work with their teams prior to July 12, any practices or preparation leading up to the Last Dance games will be in the hands of appointed coaches who are not directly involved with the high school programs.
Because this event is being treated as a summer tournament, the NJSIAA has no direct involvement in it, and teams are prohibited from wearing uniforms they would wear during the school baseball season. The local team will not be called "Gov. Livingston," but will go by the moniker of "Berkeley Heights/Mountainside White Sox."
Gov. Livingston varsity coach Chris Roof will not be coaching the team, but he has endorsed the efforts of a group of four volunteers who will take the reins instead.
"I think the tournament is a wonderful idea as a way to have some closure," said Roof, who has entrusted George Devanney and Scott McCulloch--who both have sons participating in the games--as well as Tyler McCulloch and DJ Gonelli, both recent GL graduates and former players, to run the team.
Recently graduated Class of 2020 players for Berkeley Heights and Mountainside include Michael DelSordo, Dylan Verschleiser, Ryan Devanney, Dan Feely, Jeremy Malave, Sam Bass, Peter Woo, Danny Quinn, Jarod Abram, Sean McCullouch and Vinnie Mellusi. All of them except one, who is still recovering from an injury, will be playing in the tournament next month.
A good portion of the tournament will be played away from school fields, many of which are at the mercy of their towns' boards of education and some of which have not been reopened yet. This has led to more private fields, town fields and even minor league stadiums being designated as sites for the Last Dance games. The White Sox will probably have some pool play games the first week at the Snyder Avenue complex.
Participants are responsible for their own transportation to and from games. There will be no busing provided.
The Last Dance is considered a high school summer tournament, not a club tournament, and teams will play under National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules.
According to a series of reopening directives from Governor Phil Murphy, baseball practices were allowed to begin on June 22, and games will be permitted beginning July 6. On June 22, the maximum size of outdoor gatherings was increased from 100 to 250 people, and that figure is slated to expand to 500 people by July 6.
Seedings, dates and locations are expected to be released by this weekend. The tournament is scheduled to end July 30.