WEST CALDWELL, 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.
Spring sports teams were practicing and preparing for pre-season scrimmages when schools were shut down in mid-March.
“For a while, we were optimistic,” said James Caldwell High School boys lacrosse coach John Timan, who founded the school’s lacrosse program in 2003. “The NJSIAA had previously posted that they were going to extend the spring season through the end of June. That gave us more of a window, but when they canceled school in New York last Friday, you could see where this was headed.”
Timan was looking forward to this season more than almost any other since he’s been at Caldwell.
“A senior class like this doesn’t come around very often,” said Timan. “The level of talent we were going to take field with was up there with the best I've coached in Caldwell. Not knowing what we could have accomplished makes this news even harder.”
That class of senior boys lacrosse players at Caldwell consists of Jason Fusaro, Chris Mergner, Jaden Pezzolla, Matt DiBlasio, Kyle Ross, Ben Kopen, Frank Crocco, Dom Perna, Connor Hapward and Carson Filion.
“We coach to build relationships with kids, to teach them what they can’t learn in the classroom,” said Timan. “They are not getting those lessons you are hoping to teach them. Some of these seniors will play in college. It’s especially tough for the ones who won’t.
"One of the lessons we talk about is being thankful to have the opportunity to play. This situation gives a whole new meaning to the idea of don’t take anything for granted. Everyone has a new perspective now. People who would be complaining, ‘Oh, I have to go to work.’ Well, I’d love to be able to go to work now.”
Timan said he wondered how summer activities before the next school year would be affected, too.
“There has been even talk about how fall sports might be modified,” said Timan. “I am hopeful that the warm weather puts this all away, and we can resume what we had. The hardest part is it is all out of your control. Something like this you can’t prepare for.
“As a coach, it is very difficult to lose a group like this especially without ever knowing if we would achieve our goals or reach the potential we believe we had this year."
Unlike the Caldwell boys lacrosse program, the girls softball program at Caldwell will be graduating just three seniors, Nicolette Luzzi, Alexa Vastola and Sofia Condorelli. Luzzi was a regional All-American last year as selected by the Softball Coaches Association.
“This is a tragedy really, for sure,” said MIke Teshkoyan, who coaches both softball and girls soccer at Caldwell. “I don't think anyone had a true handle on how serious this was at first. They closed school for a week or two, then it became a couple more weeks, and then it started sinking in. You watch the news every day, and the well-being of everybody supersedes sports. We hope to get back to a day when we can resume in a safe manner.”
Teshkoyan can look forward to having the majority of his varsity softball players back next year, assuming that all systems are go for sports participation again by next spring. So the continued instruction he and his staff have tried to provide this spring will, he hopes, benefit the girls who play in the program.
“We have a Google Classroom, and my assistant coaches and I have been posting workouts and videos, kind of motivational messages,” said Teshkoyan. “They have been making videos, of them all throwing to and catching each other. We’ve tried to keep as close as we can possibly be. The girls were going out playing catch or hitting off tees. We were ready to go if the season was to have resumed.”
As the coach of a fall sport, Teshkoyan raised serious concern about the status of next autumn’s soccer season.
“They have to figure out the academic part first. It’s all in doubt right now,” said Teshkoyan. “I just worry about the physical contact. I hope the experts and scientists have a handle on it. Do we shut down for a year and have a minimal risk? It’s a tough call.
"Say if they do start fall sports—it’s definitely going to come to a point where there is an acceptable risk or not. I think shutting down for a little while longer makes sense to me, so you can start back up. We might be looking at changes that will be in effect for years to come.”
Teshkoyan said that what has happened this spring should serve as a reminder to all.
“You never really dwell on the negative in life, that this could be the last game or the last season,” said Teshkoyan. “But appreciate what you have at the moment. Tell people what they mean to each other through notes and positive reinforcement. No one can anticipate something like this. This hit them hard.”
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.”