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School sports postponed in Oceanside

Parents, student-athletes to protest today at 6 p.m.

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Oceanside High School students will have to wait until January 2021 to play school sports, after Nassau County superintendents voted unanimously on Aug. 26 to postpone the fall season.

The decision was met with disappointment from student-athletes in Oceanside, including varsity dance team members Emme Ortiz, Felice Bloom and Erin Sulivan.

“It’s upsetting to know that we don’t have that to look forward to,” Ortiz, a junior, said, “and we really hope that it can change.”

Ortiz noted she has resumed dance classes with safety precautions outside of school at Dance Innovations in Oceanside, so she believes it can be done safely at school, too. “A lot of students get really motivated when they have their sports and their commitments,” she said. “It’s such a special thing to be a part of, and it’s really important for the school’s morale and for the students.”

At an emergency meeting on Aug. 26, seven Nassau superintendents voted to postpone all high school sports until Jan. 4, becoming the first of the state’s 11 sections to move its fall season.

“I believe other sections will follow and pull the plug, but I can’t speak for anyone else,” said Section VIII Executive Director of Athletics Pat Pizzarelli. “We felt strong enough to make this decision now,” he said. “We took the cautious route, but we believe it’s in everyone’s best interests. There are too many unknowns.

“It’s just not time to allow kids to play sports,” he continued. “And my first and foremost concern is the safety of our student-athletes.”

The postponement was made two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued guidance permitting lower-risk high school fall sports — soccer, tennis, swimming, field hockey and cross-country — to begin practicing and playing on Sept. 21, while noting football and volleyball could begin practicing but not playing.

“It was never a consideration to try playing even the lower-risk sports,” Pizzarelli said. “Transportation is a big issue. There are a lot of issues.”

The next day, the Section VIII Superintendents Board issued a statement that the decision would be reconsidered, but the panel made no promises about whether a season would be played in the fall. “Section VIII is committed to reassess its position prior to the governor’s starting date of Sept. 21,” they wrote. “As always, we will act in what we believe to be in the best interest of the health and safety of all those in our charge.”

Then, on Friday, student-athletes and parents from across the county protested the postponement of sports at the Nassau BOCES Administrative Center in Garden City, where the decision was made.

A group of Oceanside parents and students will also protest at Oceanside High School on Monday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m., according to Jessica Brusa, one of the parents who helped organize the rally. Parents, students and local elected officials will be there to speak about the positive impact of school sports and argue that they can be held safely.

The decision took the Oceanside Board of Education by surprise before it convened for its Aug. 26 meeting, which was held at the School No. 6 auditorium and live-streamed. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington expressed her support for postponing sports, saying, “I understand the disappointment, but I am confident that the decision was the right one for the safety of our students and staff.”

Meanwhile, Board of Education President Mary McGrath-Mulhern said the postponement could affect senior athletes applying for college scholarships. “Our kids would be at a disadvantage,” she said.

Harrington noted that schools would have needed more guidance from the state to hold sports in the fall. “The requirements of the school districts in order to be granted permission to open our doors to kids were just not congruent with [the state’s] decision,” she said, noting that schools are required to have students remain 12 feet apart for phys.-ed. classes.

The plan, Pizzarelli said, is to play all three sports seasons between January and June, when, school officials hope, the threat of Covid-19 has decreased. He said Section VIII will create its own contingency model and aim to limit season overlaps to one week at the most.

“We’ll look to get started Jan. 4 with the traditional winter sports, including basketball and wrestling,” Pizzarelli said.

Each sports season will be condensed, running nine weeks. The fall sports will be played in the second season, and spring sports will be third as usual. Last year’s spring season was nixed March 16, after one week of practice, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After Section VIII officials said they would reconsider the decision, Harrington issued a statement recognizing the value of school sports as “an integral part of our school community.”

“At the same time, we are all entering a new school year filled with uncertainties,” she continued. “We believe we are prepared to welcome our students into an environment that complies with the myriad of mandates and guidelines designed to protect the health and safety of our students and staff as they return to our schools … As always, the health and safety of all those in our charge is of utmost importance.”

Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.