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County school superintendents postpone high school sports to 2021

NSHS to adapt to unusual sports schedule

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North Shore High School student-athletes will have to wait until the new year to compete in sports.

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

Don Lang, the North Shore School District’s athletic director, said that winter sports will be played in January and February, fall sports will be moved to March and April, and spring sports will round out the year in May and June. He said he was disappointed, as both a school official and a father of student athletes, but he could not argue with the decision.

“I believe other sections will follow and pull the plug, but I can’t speak for anyone else,” said Section VIII Executive Director of Athletics Pat Pizzarelli. “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.

“It’s just not time to allow kids to play sports,” he continued. “And my first and foremost concern is the safety of our student-athletes.”

Rising senior Jack Ledden plays wide receiver and safety for the NSHS football team. He said he and his teammates had looked forward to building on last year’s solid season, when the team made the Nassau County Conference III semifinals as a fourth seed before losing to top-seeded Plainedge High.

The decision to postpone Nassau athletics came two days after Gov. Andrew M. 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.

However, Nassau superintendents did not consider the current conditions safe enough to play fall sports. The seven-person committee voted unanimously to postpone them.

“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, Pizzarelli said, is to play all three sports seasons between January and June, when, officials said they hope, the threat of Covid-19 has decreased. He said Section VIII will create 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. Fall sports will be played in the second season and spring sports will be third as usual. The 2020  spring season ended March 16, after one week of practice, as the coronavirus deepened.

“These kids have missed so much in the last six months,” Lang said, “and it’s a shame that we can’t get on the field and work with [them].”

The biggest challenge moving forward, he said, will be to ensure the athletes receive proper training, which will be a challenge given the state’s social-distancing guidelines for schools — in phys.-ed. classes, students must be 12 feet apart.

While Ledden said he understands the county’s decision and thinks it is the right call, he is disappointed he and his teammates won’t take the field this fall. The atmosphere around school will be different, he said, because many students look forward to Saturday games.

Ledden said that not experiencing the social aspect of playing football will be missed just as much, as the team would get together for pasta dinners every Friday night to mentally prepare for games. He said, though, players would take the extra time to prepare for next year’s season.

“We’re bummed out,” Ledden said, “but we’ll get more time to get the work in, learn all the plays for the younger guys and get our bodies right.”

The team has put in work through Zoom game plan sessions, said coach Dan Agovino, which he said shows the team’s commitment to winning.

“They’ve been working hard, showing up and being mature about it,” he said, “but obviously on the inside they’re struggling because they want to be on the field.”

Football has a special place in North Shore, Agovino said, as it is a small school that draws more than a thousand spectators for every Saturday game, which also provides opportunities for cheerleaders and the school band to demonstrate their talents. He said the community will miss out as well.

“Being out there on the field with all your friends and your family and the community watching you is an amazing feeling,” Ledden said.