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High-risk sports set to begin in Bellmore-Merrick

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Tryouts for basketball, wrestling, kickline and cheerleading were to begin in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District on Wednesday, after a two-day snow delay following the nor’easter.

The announcement came in a letter to parents from Athletic Director Eric Caballero last Friday, two days after county health officials approved guidance put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

According to a subsequent letter sent on Monday — when schools were closed during the snowstorm — weekly Covid-19 testing will be mandatory for student athletes. It will be carried out through a partnership with a third-party provider, ATC Healthcare Testing and Screening Services, which employs certified medical practitioners.

“The Bellmore-Merrick CHSD feels that testing is a critical step in ensuring the resumption of high-risk sports as safely as possible,” Caballero wrote.

Testing will begin for student-athletes on Saturday (see box, Page 4). They will report to the building, complete a pre-screening questionnaire and be tested in the cafeteria while following all health and safety protocols. The process should take no longer than 15 minutes.

Rank One Sports clearance will not be re-quired before tryouts; however, students who make a team will need to complete a new “Sports Candidate Health History” form, as required by New York state, by Friday. All winter student athletes will receive notifications and reminders about completing the form from their coaches during the first week of participation.

Since locker use will also be limited, designated drop-off areas for athletic equipment bags will be established at each school. Locker rooms will be open for changing only for those who play immediately after school. Students who play later will be asked to arrive at practice or games dressed in the appropriate gear.

“Please know that our primary focus will be to maintain the health and safety of our student-athletes and coaches,” Caballero continued. “All tryouts will be conducted in accordance with guidelines and recommendations made by the New York State DOH and the Nassau County Health Department. Attendance will be taken daily for contact tracing purposes, and all student-athletes will be required to show their . . . NERIC app clearance screen on their smartphone device prior to entering all facilities.”

Temperatures will also be checked before participation, and all guidelines regarding personal protective equipment, social distancing and hand sanitizing will be followed, Caballero added. 

Cuomo gave high-risk high school sports the green light to play and practice last week, and approval from local officials was swift. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced on Jan. 27 that if guidelines are met, public and parochial schools could conduct games as soon as Feb. 8.

“I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and rinks they love so much and to bring a little normal back into their lives,” Curran said.

The guidelines require masks to be worn, unless players are unable to tolerate such coverings while playing. Those not on the field will need to maintain social distancing, and sharing of equipment or drinks is also prohibited.

Section VIII Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli said that since participation is the primary goal this winter, there will be no playoffs for basketball and no postseason for wrestling. Basketball teams will only play an eight-game season while wrestling will conduct dual meets only.

“We want the largest number of kids playing in the most number of games, and this was the way to do it,” Pizzarelli said.

Caballero emphasized, however, that for the winter season to be successful, it would take the combined efforts of school officials, coaches, players and parents to ensure student-athletes avoid high-risk activities outside of school.

“If this is going to be successful, everybody is going to have to play their part,” Caballero said. “We need the parents — the parents that were just as loud with the ‘Let Them Play’ movement. They have to be just as strict with their own children.”

To view the full letter, visit the district website at www.bellmore-merrick.k12.ny.us/.

Tony Bellissimo contributed to this story.