Coaches talk high school, college sports delays


High school and college sports coaches on the latest Herald Inside LI webinar discussed how Covid-19 has affected their programs — including new recruiting methods, alternatives to competitive gameplay and staying positive through it all.

The virtual panel was live-streamed on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. and produced by RichnerLive, a division of Richner Communications Inc., publisher of Herald Community Newspapers. Herald Inside LI is a webinar series that aims to educate the community about navigating different aspects of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local athletic coaches and officials joined the most recent conversation, including Chuck Priore, head football coach at Stony Brook University; Danielle Santos Atkinson, head women’s basketball coach at Hofstra University; Michael Rubino, head football coach and athletic director at Valley Stream Central High School; and David Viegas, director of health, phys. ed. and athletics in the Hewlett-Woodmere Union Free School District.

Tony Bellissimo, sports editor of Herald Community Newspapers, offered opening remarks about the delay of fall sports because of Covid-19. “This has serious effects on schools and student-athletes,” he said, “especially the student-athletes in high school with an eye on playing at the next level.”

Skye Ostreicher, of RichnerLive and Herald Community Newspapers, moderated the event and asked the panelists questions — first, about their reactions to the delay of high school and college sports.

“It tears me apart to not see our kids and be at their games,” Viegas said, “but I think the focus had to be on getting us back into school, and now that we’re there, staying there, staying open.”

The other panelists agreed that though it must have been a tough decision for university officials to make, health and safety must be the top priority. “We need to make the most out of it and figure out how to move this process forward,” Priore said.

A big concern among high school athletes is losing game time that could be recorded and sent to college coaches, or that recruiters could attend to watch them play. However, the panelists each gave advice to those student-athletes looking to continue their sport in college. “We have learned different ways of recruiting and outreach,” Priore noted.

This means using online platforms to connect with colleges, rather than in-person meetings, tours or visits with college officials at competitions. Both Priore and Atkinson said they use social media to learn more about prospective players. They also said that they would accept videos of players demonstrating their skills, even if they are not in a game and are recorded by a friend or family member.

College tours are also available virtually, Priore noted, as well as a wealth of information about the schools. Now that prospective student-athletes are diving deeper into Stony Brook’s online information, “I honestly think the kids that we’re recruiting are benefitting from knowing Stony Brook better,” he said.

Priore added that being able to hop on a Zoom call for recruiting purposes has been advantageous for his football players looking to enter professional leagues. “Today, we had 32 NFL teams on a Zoom call with [our athletics officials], showcasing our kids,” he said. “We’ve never had 32 NFL teams visit our campus, so our kids got more exposure this year than they normally would.”

For high school students, Atkinson encouraged Zoom calls for getting to know potential teammates and coaches at colleges. “They’re able to get on a call and come face to face with our academic adviser, strength coach and student-athletes, which was a great change,” she said, “because that’s one of the most important things — who are the people that I’m going to be surrounded by during my time in college?”

Rubino said that Twitter is a great place for high school students to present themselves to coaches, as well, by adding information about the student’s academics and sports background. “It’s about marketing yourself in the best possible light,” he said. “Let [coaches] know what class you are and make it as easy as possible for them to recruit you.”

Although games are not being played, college student-athletes have already begun training in small groups within their teams, while following health and safety protocols, with practices on the horizon. The college coaches noted that during the shutdown, not all the players had access to a gym to continue conditioning before playing. Thus, they are still getting all players on the same page before they start playing in January.

“We had to stay in small groups as a football program, social distance and wear masks indoors,” Priore said. “From a training standpoint, our kids have really benefited.”

High school student-athletes, however, are mostly still waiting to practice with their teams. Coaches are formulating plans to make this happen in the future. The panelists noted that without competitive sports in the fall, there is plenty of time to focus on academics, as well as maintain relationships with college officials to get recruited.

“It’s not canceled; it’s just postponed,” Viegas said. “They’ll get their opportunity; they just have to be patient.”

The panelists acknowledged that for student-athletes, many of whom have played every year since they were young, the change in plans could be overwhelming. Atkinson encouraged coaches and parents to discuss mental health with their student-athletes and to shed a positive light on the situation.

“Everyone is just trying to stay positive, follow the rules, wear your mask,” Rubino said, “and then hopefully in the next few weeks, we’ll start to see some high schools generate plans where we can follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and get [teams] back together a little bit.”