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Nassau County postpones high school sports until 2021

Parents, student-athletes rally against decision

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Baldwin High School student-athletes will have to wait until 2021 to compete in sports.

At an emergency meeting held the morning of Aug. 26, a committee of Nassau County school superintendents voted to postpone high school sports until Jan. 4, becoming the first of the state’s 11 sections to delay its fall season.

“It’s just not time to allow kids to play sports,” said Section VIII Nassau Executive Director of Athletics Pat Pizzarelli. “And my first and foremost concern is the safety of our student-athletes.”

When sports restart in 2021, “there are going to be protocols in place for every sport, including busing, locker rooms, athletic trainers, coaches, fan attendance — everything,” said Baldwin Schools Director of Athletics Ed Ramirez.

The decision to delay athletics came two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued guidance permitting lower-risk high school fall sports — soccer, tennis, swimming, field hockey and cross-country — to begin practice and play on Sept. 21, while noting football and volleyball could begin practice but not play.

“I believe other sections will follow and pull the plug, but I can’t speak for anyone else,” Pizzarelli continued. “We felt strong enough to make this decision now. We took the cautious route, but we believe it’s in everyone’s best interests. There are too many unknowns.”

The superintendents said they did not consider the current conditions safe enough to conduct fall sports. The seven-person committee of Nassau County officials voted unanimously to postpone.

“It was never a consideration to try playing even the lower-risk sports,” Pizzarelli said. “Transportation is a big issue. There are a lot of issues.”

The plan, he said, is to play all three sports seasons between January and June, when, school officials hope, the threat of Covid-19 has decreased. He said Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau County’s high school athletics, would develop its own contingency model and aim to limit season overlaps to one week at the most.

“We’ll look to get started Jan. 4 with the traditional winter sports, including basketball and wrestling,” Pizzarelli said.

Each sports season will be condensed, running nine weeks. The fall sports would be played in the second season, and spring sports would be third. Last year’s spring season was nixed March 16, after one week of practice, because of the  coronavirus pandemic.

Amid backlash from parents, the Section VIII Superintendents Board issued a statement last Thursday that the decision would be reconsidered, but the panel made no promises about whether a season would be played in the fall. “Section VIII is committed to reassess its position prior to the governor’s starting date of Sept. 21,” they wrote. “As always, we will act in what we believe to be in the best interest of the health and safety of all those in our charge.”

Last Friday, chants of “Let them play!” rang out from the Nassau BOCES Administrative Center in Garden City, where more than 100 high school athletes, parents and state and local representatives attended the rally calling on Section VIII to reverse the decision.

“This is more than just about sports,” said Jill Levine, a mother of Bellmore-JFK athletes and an organizer of the rally. “This is all about having the right to play and following the rules, which we have been doing for months and months.”

Protesters argued that recreational sports leagues that were active throughout the summer showed games can be played without spreading the coronavirus.

“There are kids here who won’t be able to go to college if they aren’t allowed to play this fall,” Levine said. “While we appreciate the answer went from ‘No’ to ‘We’ll re-evaluate,’ it is absolutely not OK to be re-evaluating on Sept. 21. This needs to happen now.”

Incoming Baldwin High School senior Tess Ferguson, who planned to play field hockey in the fall, is feeling the effects of the decision. “Of course it’s heartbreaking right after coming from a canceled lacrosse season, but knowing that there’s a chance I’ll get to play out my senior season this spring definitely sheds a bit of light on the situation,” she said.

Ferguson and her fellow team captain, senior Cianna Gibson, organized practices throughout the summer for anyone who was interested in working on their skills before the season started.

“My team and I have been working all summer as safely as possible, wearing masks and keeping our distance from each other, and I really believe we were on track to have a great year,” she said. “We have a lot of chemistry and potential already, and I’d love to see it all play out, even if the season doesn’t look exactly like what we’re used to.”

She said she and her team would likely continue working together into the fall now that the season has been postponed.

 

Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.