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Fall sports may be postponed in East Meadow

Athletes, parents push back against Section VIII decision

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A committee of Nassau County school superintendents voted on Aug. 26 to postpone high school sports until Jan. 4, drawing ire from student athletes and parents in the East Meadow School District.

Since the decision, members of the East Meadow and Salisbury communities have been calling on Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau County high school athletics, to reverse the decision at a number of rallies across the county. The first was last Friday, at the Nassau BOCES Administrative Center in Garden City, where Section VIII officials meet.

“We’re trying to get the powers that be to change their mind,” said Johanna Aprea, of Salisbury. “It’s ridiculous that these kids can’t play when you could drive past any park right now and see kids playing sports. All of my daughter’s friends were on summer leagues, so it doesn’t make sense why they can’t play in high school.”

Aprea’s daughter, Sophia, is an incoming sophomore at W.T. Clarke High School, and competes on both the girls’ lacrosse and cheerleading teams. When she began her athletic career last year, her mother heard that the school was in need of a new mascot, so she volunteered to become the Clarke Ram.

“My daughter thrives in sports,” Aprea said. “Through the pandemic, these kids have been away from their friends; they haven’t been social. And sports teach kids tolerance. It teaches them how to overcome challenges.”

But Pat Pizzarelli, Section VIII’s executive director of athletics, defended the postponement of sports. “We felt strongly enough to make this decision now,” he said. “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,” Pizzarelli continued. “And my first and foremost concern is the safety of our student athletes.”

The postponement came just two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that lower-risk high school fall sports — soccer, tennis, swimming, field hockey and cross-country — could begin practicing and playing on Sept. 21, while football and volleyball could begin practicing but not competing. Section VIII became the first of the state’s 11 sections to reschedule its fall season.

On Aug. 27, the Section VIII Superintendents Board issued a statement that the decision would be reconsidered, but made no promises about whether there would be any sports in the fall. “Section VIII is committed to reassess its position prior to the governor’s starting date of Sept. 21,” it 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.”

The plan now, Pizzarelli said, is to fit all three sports seasons in between January and June, when, it is hoped, the threat of Covid-19 will have declined. He said that Section VIII would aim to limit overlaps of the condensed, nine-week seasons.

Some parents called it a double standard to reopen schools under state guidelines, but not to allow sports. “If they can open up school and have kids sit inside all day with masks on, why can’t they let less kids be outside and play sports?” asked Mariann DeRidder-Roche, whose son, Mathew, is an incoming senior and plays on Clarke’s baseball team.

“Even if they allow sports in January, they’re going to be so far behind because they’ve missed out on practicing,” Aprea said. “And my daughter would have to choose between the two sports she loves the most. It’s just not right.”

DeRidder-Roche agreed, and said that Mathew was looking to play baseball in college, “but that could be ruined if coaches don’t see him play in the fall,” she said. “Some of these kids were planning to go to [NCAA Division 1] schools and get scholarships, and they’re going to take that away from them?”

All six of DeRidder-Roche’s children have played sports at Clarke, she said, including her late son who died several years ago. Now, his football jersey hangs in the hallway of the school and, his mother said, serves as a symbol of strength and pride to her sons and their friends.

“To pass his jersey now and not . . . be able to play — that’s just going to be heartbreaking,” she said.