HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. – The spring sports season will not start on time. That much is certain. But what happens beyond that is anybody’s guess.
“I’m very anxious to get underway,” said Bob Middlestadt, North Salem softball coach. “This virus has really put any short-term projections in a real bind.”
Many school districts have been monitoring the spread of COVID-19 on weekly basis and making decisions independent of county, state or federal governments. And because sports cancellations are tied to school closings, they are generally the second domino to fall. These factors make it difficult to get any clear picture on what an abbreviated spring season could look like.
Seasons for baseball, golf, lacrosse, softball, tennis, and track and field were slated to begin the week of Monday, March 23. But many schools are closed until the end of the month, wiping out scheduled practices and games.
The North Salem track and field team, for example, was scheduled to open their season at Somers High School’s Twilight Invitational on Friday, March 27.
“It’s just disappointing all around, but I trust that they’re making the right decision,” said Chris Gould, coach, track and field. “I feel bad for the seniors.”
Formalizing steps already taken by most regional schools, the Section 1 Executive Committee announced Monday that it was postponing all practices, combined practices, scrimmages and contests until at least Monday, March 30. The committee will reassess the situation and give further guidance on the spring season at that time.
AN ABRUPT END
The virus has also affected the end of the winter sports season. North Salem junior Ava Jolley was scheduled to compete Friday, March 13, at the New Balance Nationals Indoor in New York City, but the event was canceled last minute.
“It’s really a bummer that this has happened,” Gould said. “But I’m hoping by the end of the month when all is said and done, that we’re going to see this outbreak start to dissipate.”
Lakeland High School senior Lauren Salazar was also scheduled to compete at the New Balance Nationals in the 1,600-meter sprint medley relay.
“I honestly think their decision to cancel the meet was for the best,” said Salazar, who has been a Rebels captain for the last two years. “There is so much going on all throughout the world and having so many people from across the nation in attendance at the Armory [Track and Field Center] was a hazard. Of course, my team and I were very upset because of how much we were looking forward to run one last time together during the winter season. But ultimately, we had a feeling it was coming, and we understood the decision.”
Salazar was also scheduled to run with Lakeland/Panas in the spring.
“Everything is very chaotic right now, and there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty, if we will have a complete spring track season or even school for that matter,” said Salazar, who was also a captain on Lakeland’s state championship field-hockey squad this fall. “Of course, I really hope to have my senior track season intact, but if it comes down to it and we are unable to, I will work hard to stay in shape and do my best to get ready for college.”
Salazar said this situation is a reminder to not take things for granted, especially juniors and underclassmen who will have another chance to suit up for Lakeland.
“If this past winter season was my last with my team,” she said, “I know we ended it off on a good note, and I am so thankful for my teammates, coaches, and Lakeland-Panas track for the last four years.”
‘A SCRAP’ OF A SEASON
Another factor that could affect the spring season is minimum practice requirements. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) requires a minimum of six practices before the first scrimmage/game for all spring sports but baseball, which requires 10. North Salem teams, which began practicing last week were able to get in five before the school closures were announced. But many neighboring schools have gotten in far fewer, in and some cases none at all.
At this point, most high school students are just hoping for “a scrap of a season,” said Geoff Curtis, baseball coach, John Jay High School, which is closed until at least April 1. However, the coach expects an even longer closure when the dust settles.
“This is not a one- or two-week challenge that we’re all facing,” Curtis said. “I’ve told the boys to keep that in mind as they’re managing their disappointment. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in my life or in education.”
Schools that have announced weeks-long closures are being responsible, Curtis added. “But that doesn’t make it easier for the kids to know it’s the right thing.”
The baseball team was able to practice several times last week, but Curtis, knowing a delay was near, gave his players their baseball caps a week earlier than usual.
“I might have waited until the first scrimmage,” Curtis said. “But you want to acknowledge their preparation and making the team.”
Curtis has told his players to continue training on their own. If a season is played, he wants them to be ready. “You’ve got to find a way to do that, even if it’s throwing [a ball] against a wall,” he said.
Unlike professional leagues, which have the opportunity to push their seasons back, school seasons are played within a finite timeline. Still, Curtis has faith that those in charge are working on “creative solutions” to play abbreviated seasons.
Frank Miele, athletic director of Mahopac Schools, is not giving up on the spring season just yet. “Our athletes have worked hard to enjoy their spring season and I will do whatever I can to make this a reality,” Miele wrote on Twitter.
Yorktown boys’ lacrosse canceled a trip to Seattle scheduled for March 26-29. Yorktown was scheduled to play at Mercer Island on Friday, March 27, and Lake Owego, from Oregon, on Saturday, March 28.
“My hope is we play [the season], but I am very concerned right now,” said Sean Carney, coach, Yorktown boys lacrosse. “I love my boys and want them to have the opportunity. But safety first, of course.”
John Jay baseball also canceled a trip to Walt Disney World (Orlando) that was scheduled for April 4-8.
Most youth leagues, including the Westchester Youth Soccer League, have also postponed the start of their spring seasons.
“We are disappointed to have to take this step, but the safety and wellbeing of our players, coaches, parents, and referees makes this decision necessary at this time,” the Westchester Youth Soccer League wrote in an email to parents. “If future circumstances allow, we will attempt to conduct a spring season, even if it may be on an abbreviated basis.”
HOW PLAYERS ARE FEELING
Yorktown’s Keith Boyer, a junior lacrosse player who was named All-American a year ago, is hoping for a chance to suit up this year.
“With everything going on with the coronavirus, the team and I are trying our best to focus on our goals for the season,” said Boyer, who is committed to play at Duke University. “We are making the most of the situation, trying to stay in shape and continue lifting. It’s definitely not the way we all wanted to start the season, but we are just trying to keep a positive mindset and hoping to get an opportunity to get on the field this spring.”
Yorktown senior Kelsey McDonnell, also an All-American in lacrosse in 2019, is committed to play next year at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It’s definitely something I never thought would be happening with my senior season,” McDonnell said. “With everything still up in the air for this upcoming spring season, I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook and attitude about it, to not jump to conclusions, and just take it day by day with any updates we get. I’m keeping up with conditioning and skills, with the hope that we just get to hop back into the regular routine as soon as possible. And lastly, I want us to keep building the team bond during this time that we have.”
Lakeland baseball pitcher Joe Vetrano, who was named the New York Gatorade Player of the Year last spring and has committed to play at Boston College next year, said he’s handling the uncertainty the best he can.
“Our whole team is trying to stay positive through all of this,” Vetrano said. “All we can do is hope this changes sometime soon so we can get back out on the field.”
Mike Sabini contributed to this story