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Go time for some Bellmore-Merrick sports

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For the first time since mid-March, Nassau County high school athletes participated in practice for their respective sports on 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 this week. High-risk winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheerleading remain on hold subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s guidelines.

In the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, Calhoun, Kennedy and Mepham High Schools combine their students to form teams in bowling and boys’ swimming, while each has its own boys’ and girls’ track teams.

Nassau’s track and field schedules had to be revamped after the county was notified by St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington that 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: outdoor meets at high schools. The first few weeks will be strictly virtual, with the possibility of in-person dual meets in play for late January and early February.

“It’s really exciting to be back with my teammates,” Calhoun senior track standout Faith Dwyer said. “It has almost been a year since I raced and I’m hoping to show my times to college coaches. Running outside in the cold will be difficult, but everyone is in the same boat.”

Colts girls’ track and field coach Joe Migliano is hopeful every team in Nassau can compete in up to 10 meets. “We’ve had 50 girls at practice,” he said. “They know they’ll be outside and competing with masks on, but they’re willing to do whatever they need to do.”

Coach Bob Kaefer said the district’s boys’ swimming/diving roster is nearly 50 percent smaller than usual, with 16 athletes compared to the usual 30. “The low turnout isn’t great for the team or the sport, but it’s good for social distancing rules,” he said. “We have seven dual meets on the schedule and hopefully we can conduct division and county meets.”

Like the track and field athletes, swimmers are likely to be competing against some opponents virtually, with teams located at different sites. Times and scores would be compared to determine a winner.

Maxwell Hahn, a junior at Mepham who swims the backstroke and freestyle, said he’s excited about the start of the season, and believes the team can compete for a division championship.

District boys’ bowling coach Joe Bianca said the program will only compete at the varsity level and carry a roster of eight. Bowlers must wear a mask at all times. “Practices have gone smooth,” he said.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it will not put another potential start date on basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheer, and instead wait for authorization from the governor’s office.

Longtime Kennedy boys’ basketball head coach Rory Block said he was hopeful the sport would be pushed back to later in the school year. “It’s a very difficult time,” he said. “I feel bad for the kids. They only have so many years they’re able to compete at the high school level.”