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South Side student-athletes open practice

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For the first time since mid-March, Nassau County high school athletes took part in practice for their respective sports on Monday afternoon, as the long-anticipated season for low- and moderate-risk winter sports began despite rising Covid-19 cases.

Public high schools all across Long Island are moving forward to compete in bowling, gymnastics, track and field, and swimming and diving, with events beginning as soon as next Monday. High-risk winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, hockey and cheerleading remain on hold and are subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s guidelines.

South Side High School is one of few in the county with teams in all four sports that were allowed to start practice. In addition to bowling, gymnastics and track and field, South Side combines with Lynbrook to share a boys’ swimming and diving team, dubbed “SouthBrook.”

“We still have a lot of unanswered questions, and there’s a chance some of our meets could be virtual, with one judge in our gym and another judge at the opponents’ gym,” said Cyclones gymnastics coach Ashley Harney, who expects to carry a roster of about 20. “We have a close-knit group of girls, and they’re looking forward to the season.”

For workouts, Harney said, the roster will be split up, with half using the school’s main gym and half using the auxiliary gym. Masks will be worn unless a gymnast is using a piece of equipment.

Boys’ swimming co-coach Ryan Clark said his roster would be capped at approximately 20, because buses and facilities, such as the Nassau County Aquatic Center at Eisenhower Park, have limited capacity due to social distancing rules. “Schools have a full semester under their belt without any major Covid flare-ups,” Clark said, “so we’re excited about the idea of having a season.”

In some meets, teams might compete against one another at more than one site, with times or diving scores determining the winner. Athletes will be required to wear masks when not in the pool.

South Side senior Matt Walter, who competes in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle as well as some relays, said he had had Jan. 4 circled on his calendar. “I’m definitely glad we’re having a season, even though it’s going to be shorter than usual,” Walter said. “We’ve been anticipating it.”

County schools’ track and field schedules are in the process of being revamped, after the county was notified by St. Anthony’s High School, in South Huntington, that it would be unable to host meets in its fieldhouse. Instead, Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau high school athletics, moved to Plan B: outdoor meets at high schools with lighting that are willing to host.

“The kids have been working out on their own in anticipation of having a season, but it’s going to be a season unlike any other,” South Side track coach Chris Webster said.

Senior distance runner Avery Brull, a state qualifier in cross-country and track who will compete next year at Cornell University, said she was prepared for any adjustments she might need to make, including wearing a mask. “I love to run, and I’m excited about the opportunity to race again, although there could be some challenges,” Brull said.

On the state level, the date for the start of high-risk winter sports has already been changed twice, from Nov. 16 to Nov. 30, and then to Jan. 4. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it would not set another potential starting date for those sports, and instead would wait for authorization from Cuomo’s office.

“As the [Covid-19 infection] numbers continue to increase all across the state, those high-risk sports activities remain on hold until we see a decline, and that’s not happening,” state budget director Robert Mujica said at a news conference on Dec. 11.

South Side girls’ basketball coach Dan Ferrick said he had been in constant communication with the 40 student athletes signed up to play this season, but wasn’t sure they would get the chance. “It all comes down to Governor Cuomo,” Ferrick said. “I’m not optimistic we’ll be able to start at any point in January, and we have to wait and see if we’ll get the go-ahead to start at all.”