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The lost sports season

Oceanside players, coaches lament spring cancellations

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After Jonathan Gamarra and three teammates set an Oceanside High School track and field record in the 4 x 400-meter relay last season, Gamarra said he looked forward to seeing what they could accomplish this spring. He will always have to wonder what might have been.

Gamarra, Eric Maisch, Christopher Figat and Benjamin Sanchez finished the relay in 3 minutes, 23.62 seconds at the Section VIII state qualifier at North Shore High School last June, but with spring sports canceled this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, they won’t have the chance to build on last year’s success.

“It was very disappointing and heartbreaking,” Gamarra said. “We accomplished a lot last year, and I was really looking forward to having a final season with my teammates, but all I can do now is wait for next season.”

For Gamarra, next season will come at Harvard University, where he will compete for the track and field team and study biology on a pre-med track.

Last season, Gamarra and Maisch were juniors, and Figat and Sanchez were sophomores, so Gamarra said he wanted to see what they could do in their final year together in 2020.

When they set the relay record, Gamarra ran the last leg. He also set an individual school record for an indoor 300-meter race, finishing in 34.86 seconds at the Stanner Games at the Armory in Manhattan in January.

Gamarra said he believed the decision to cancel the season was made to ensure the health and safety of the student-athletes.

And, he added, he was excited about moving on to college. “I’m looking forward to training with very elite athletes who are faster than me so I can learn off them,” he said, “especially in the atmosphere that Harvard creates.”

Any hopes for even a modified spring season were dashed on April 21, when health and safety concerns led athletic administrators and school superintendents in Nassau and Suffolk counties to announce the cancellation.

“For the safety for our student-athletes, Section VIII has made the difficult decision to cancel spring sports for our high schools and middle schools,” Nassau County Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli said. “Long Island is one of the areas most affected by this terrible pandemic, so both Section VIII [Nassau] and Section XI [Suffolk] have made this very difficult decision.”

Oceanside School District Athletic Director Jeff Risener said it was a “heartbreaking” decision, but he understood the need to put students’ safety first.

“You can’t imagine what they must be feeling,” he said of the student-athletes. “Kids go through their lifetimes in sports preparing for seasons, and they get themselves in physical shape, mental shape and get ready to be involved in an athletic season, and then to have this taken away, it’s just heartbreaking for them, and my heart goes out to them.”

Administrators in Nassau and Suffolk met over a 24-hour span beginning April 20 and thought they should act quickly.

A week earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had extended New York state’s stay-at-home policies through May 15, meaning that schools will be closed until at least that date. Even if public schools were to reopen, however, no practices and sporting events will be held.

Nassau County’s Athletic Council, which includes superintendents, principals and officials, met the night of April 20, and members were unanimous in their decision. Athletic directors met the following morning and agreed.

Catherine Stanford, a varsity softball player for the Sailors, said the decision set off a mass text chain among her and her teammates, who she said were devastated to discover they would not have one more year to play together. “It just hit me all at once,” she said. “I was really upset.”

Stanford started playing baseball with boys when she was 5, and then transitioned to softball, joining the varsity team in eighth grade. The cancellation was most upsetting her, she added, because she will be a member of the swim team next year at Penn State University, but will not play softball.

Stanford said it was also disappointing that the varsity team got to the Nassau County Class AA championship last season and lost to East Meadow, and now the girls will not have a chance to build on their record.

“We knew this year was going to be our year,” she said. “. . . I’ll remember that everyone on the team was always supportive. Once you made a bad play or struck out, everyone was always there and had your back. We’re going to be sad for a while, but we have each others’ backs, just like during games.”

Mike Postilio, who has coached varsity baseball at Oceanside High since 2013, said he was most dismayed by his nine seniors not getting a chance to play their final season, especially those who have waited behind older players at key positions when they were younger and were supposed to have finally received their shot as starters.

“We started working out in October for our season, which starts in March, so we put a lot of time in this offseason,” Postilio said. “It’s sad for them that they didn’t get a chance to compete with each other, but they created a lot of memories and bonds.”

Postilio said he hosted a Google Classroom discussion with his players after the announcement to tell them that he is there to support them. He has also used the platform to provide his players with safe offseason workouts that they can follow.

The Sailors had a memorable season in 2019, finishing 16-8 and making it to the Nassau County Class AA semifinals before losing to Port Washington. Unable to build on that this spring, Postilio said he hoped his players, the Oceanside community and all first responders and front-line workers remained healthy during the pandemic.

“We’re hoping they’re doing the right thing and staying safe and smart, and hopefully once all of this gets resolved and settled and under control, then we can get back to the things that we enjoy,” he said. “I think people took for granted going to practice every day or going to school, and now when they’re not able to, I’m sure they’ll look forward to that in the future.”

Tony Bellissimo contributed to this story.