For the first time since mid-March, Nassau County high school athletes participated in practice for their respective sports Jan. 4 as the long-anticipated season for low- and moderate-risk winter sports got off the ground despite rising Covid-19 cases.
Public high schools all across Long Island are moving forward to compete in bowling, gymnastics, track and field, fencing, and swimming/diving, with events beginning as soon as this week. High-risk winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheerleading remain on hold and are subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s guidelines.
Hewlett High School is one of few in Nassau with teams in all five sports permitted to start. Director of Physical Education, Health, & Athletics David Viegas said no spectators will be allowed at home events, but the district is in the process of trying to develop a livestream platform.
Nassau’s track and field schedules had to be revamped after the county was notified by St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington it would be unable to host meets inside its fieldhouse. Instead, Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau high school athletics, moved to Plan B, which calls for outdoor meets at high schools. At the very least, the first few weeks will be strictly virtual.
“We had 10 kids for the first few days of practice compared to our usual 25,” Hewlett boys’ track coach Eamon McHugh said. “We’re not going to have the normal 10 to 12 meets, but a shorter season is better than nothing.”
Hewlett’s girls’ track program has enjoyed great success under coach Stephen Honerkamp, who guided the Bulldogs to a county title last winter. He said the roster is limited to 30 and stands at 20, but still has a chance to grow. “We’re taking a slow approach, working in small groups and following every safety protocol,” Honerkamp said.
Senior middle distance runner Kira Grossman said competing with a mask on will take some getting used to. “I’m really happy the season wasn’t canceled,” she said. “It’s been fun getting back with my teammates. Wearing a mask is different and hard, but I’m glad we’re taking that precaution.”
Boys’ swimming/diving coach Gregg Solnick said the roster stands at 20, and six regular-season meets will take place all at home. “The kids are definitely excited to get back and have really been on top of protocols and the safety aspect,” Solnick said. “It’s been a great atmosphere.”
Track and swim meets will see the Bulldogs competing against some opponents virtually, with each team at a different site. Times and scores would be compared to determine a winner. Masks will be required of all track athletes at all times, while swimmers must wear one when not in the pool.
Senior swimmer Ilan Goldberg, a state qualifier last season who thrives in the 200 Individual Medley and the backstroke, said he’s looking forward to competing and having fun. “Everybody was really excited to come back,” he said. “We have a bunch of year-round swimmers and we think we can do well this season.”
Hewlett boys’ bowling coach Nick Paxinos said the opening week concluded with 14 kids on the roster. Only 6 will compete in a match. “As a conference, we don’t seem to be lacking in terms of signups,” he said, referring to the Bulldogs, Lynbrook, Long Beach and Valley Stream.
After bumping the potential start date three times, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it will not put another target date on basketball, wrestling, hockey, and competitive cheerleading. It will await further guidance from the Governor’s office. “At this time there is no definitive timeline for authorization of high-risk sports to resume competition,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas tweeted Jan. 6.
Hewlett boys’ basketball coach Bill Dubin said he’s kept in touch with athletes through Zoom meetings and group texts. “We’re constantly looking at alternative options in case Cuomo doesn’t allow basketball to happen soon,” Dubin said. “We have 12 kids who only play basketball, so it’s not like they can look ahead to another sport that may be permitted.”