For the first time since mid-March, Nassau County high school athletes are back competing against each other as the long-anticipated season for low- and moderate-risk winter sports got off the ground this month despite rising Covid-19 numbers.
Bowling, gymnastics, track and field, fencing, swimming/diving and air rifle began practice Jan. 4. High-risk winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheerleading remain on hold and are subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval or disapproval.
At East Meadow, the Jets are competing in three sports this winter: bowling, track and field and boys’ swimming.
Nassau’s track and field schedules had to be revamped after the county was notified by St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington it would be unable to host meets inside its fieldhouse. Instead, Section VIII, the governing body for Nassau high school athletics, moved to Plan B, which calls for outdoor meets at high schools. At the very least, the first few weeks will be strictly virtual.
East Meadow boys’ track coach Mike Ringhauser said its tentative schedule calls for six virtual meets and four traditional head-to-head competitions. Each of the head-to-head meets will be on the road since construction on a new track and turf football field could start soon.
“The kids have done a lot of training since the summer but haven’t been able to see the fruits of their labor,” said Ringhauser, who added the boys’ and girls’ programs have approximately 50 participants apiece. “They’re very happy to have the opportunity.”
For virtual track meets, teams will perform at their home sites with one official present. Times for running events and measurements for distance events will be input into a countywide database. Masks will be required of all coaches and athletes at all times.
Senior Chris Martinez said he’s competing in the 600 and long jump and looking to get his results out to college coaches. “Any competition is better than nothing,” he said. “We’ve all been working hard and it’s exciting to finally have a season.”
Jets girls’ bowling coach Vin Mascia is carrying a roster of 9, and said with the opposing team situated a few pairs of lanes away per social distance guidelines, scores are compared at the end of the match. “You can’t worry about what the other team is doing,” he said.
Eighth-grader Amanda Morris, a second-year varsity bowler, said the atmosphere is different but it’s still exciting to be competing. “Everyone on our team is supportive of each other,” she said. “We’re all trying to bowl around or above our averages.”
East Meadow boys’ swim coach Darryl Strabuk said numbers are down about 20 percent compared to last winter but filling every event still won’t be an issue. “It’s a great outlet for the kids,” he said. “They’re getting exercise and seeing their friends and kids they’ve competed against in the past.”
On hold indefinitely are basketball, wrestling, cheerleading and hockey, the four winter sports deemed “high risk.” After bumping the potential start date three times, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association said it will not put another target date on those sports to begin. It will await further guidance from the Governor’s office. “At this time there is no definitive timeline for authorization of high-risk sports to resume competition,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas tweeted Jan. 6.
East Meadow girls’ basketball head coach Peter Olenik said given the current Covid infection rate he’s concerned there’s not going to be a season. “Our team has a special bond and we’re trying to remain hopeful,” Olenik said. “We’ve started intramurals twice a week for the boys and girls just to get them to work on individual drills and give them a taste of basketball while we wait to hear what’s going to happen.”