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High School Sports Return This Week

By Rich Thomaselli
HVSR Staff

They.

Are.

Back!

After almost 200 days without high school sports, student-athletes at 10 local schools start lacing them up this week with some starting as early as Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Section 1 schools Beacon, Our Lady of Lourdes, Mahopac, Carmel, Brewster, Putnam Valley and Haldane all kick off their low- to moderate-risk sports – boys soccer, girls soccer, boys cross country, girls cross country, girls tennis and field hockey. John Jay and Ketcham will begin practices on Thursday, Oct. 1, and Arlington was set to start on Friday, Oct. 2.

High-risk sports football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading were moved to March because the state Department of Health considered those activities to be more likely to transmit the coronavirus. And girls swimming was also moved to the spring due to a lack of available facilities to use.

Poughkeepsie, which still doesn’t have an athletic director after the departure of Christian Hodge, hasn’t announced its plans and Pawling has decided to shift fall sports to the spring. The remainder of the schools in the Hudson Valley Sports Report coverage area are all in Section 9 which, along with Sections 4, 8 and 11, have decided to shift all fall sports to what is now known as the Fall Season II in March.

Still, it’s a small victory in the face of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, which cancelled the remainder of the winter high school season this past March – including a run to the state quarterfinals by the Millbrook and Putnam Valley girls basketball teams – and the entire spring season.

And after an agonizing game of will they or won’t they allow sports among the governor’s office, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the state Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, school district superintendents, section executive directors and athletic directors, it’s finally here.

And that made almost everybody smile for the first time in months, including Mahopac girls soccer stars and teammates Mia Klammer and Hailey Pereira.

“Knowing that practice is starting is so exciting,” Klammer said.

“I am so thrilled to be starting up soccer season. When I got word that Section 1 was going to allow us to play, I couldn’t help but smile,” said Pereira, who is already committed to play collegiately next year at Division I Bryant University. “I am so grateful for the opportunity Section 1 is giving its athletes.”

Games are not expected to start until at least October 10; still to be determined is how many spectators will be allowed in the stands, both for home and away games; whether or not Section 1 will host postseason tournaments; and whether all athletes will have to wear face masks while playing unless they have a condition preventing them from doing so.

But at least, in the face of all adversity, we will have high school sports.

“I’m very excited about restarting the season,” Beacon boys soccer goalie AJ Lucas said. “Most of the boys haven’t played in a game for almost six months now and the anticipation is very high to start back up.”

Indeed it has been difficult for many players. Some were lucky enough to be involved in summer club and travel sports; many others were not. And with school grounds and facilities still closed, and gyms that only opened earlier this month, working out was limited.

“I’ve been doing at-home weight lifting, speed and agility workouts to stay strong and in shape,” Lucas said. “To keep my goalkeeping sharp, I had my sister, who is a collegiate soccer player, help me with drills and to keep my hands sharp.”

The road to this point wasn’t without some serious discussion first.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his blessing for low- to moderate-risk sports to start on Sept. 21. School district superintendents then sent him a letter asking him to rescind his decision and have all sports start on Jan. 4 so as not to interfere with the delicate school reopening plans. Section 1 then moved the start date from Sept. 21 to Sept. 29.

Brewster athletic director Dean Berardo said the whole thing bordered on the surreal. He recounted that on a recent Friday afternoon he gathered his stuff at the end of the school day and headed for his car.

“It was, and has been, strange,” he said. “To go out there and not even hear kids practicing much less play a game, no whistles blowing, no coaches talking, no cheering … it’s been out of our norm.”

Berardo and his fellow athletic directors have engaged in conversations never before heard with coaches about protocols in the COVID-19 era.

“I had two very in-depth meetings with the coaches and I have done Zoom meetings with all our teams to outline all the changes,” Arlington athletic director Mike Cring said. “Prior to this we had kind of kept things in-house because things are changing so rapidly. I was concerned that anything I sent out would change the next day and create more confusion. But we really went in-depth last week.”

Cring said local schools will play about 10 or 11 games each in a truncated season. There are no fall regional or state championships – they have already been cancelled by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association – and Section 1 will decide shortly whether to host sectional championships in each sport.

“The virus will dictate what we’re doing,” Cring said. “Most of us in this business are organized, Type A, take-care-of-business people. This has thrown us all for a loop. There are no end dates. There are no guarantees. This is unlike anything we’ve ever had to deal with.”

And, of course, the dark cloud above remains. The season could come to a screeching halt if COVID-19 infections start to spike again, a reality that players, coaches, athletic directors and superintendents are all too familiar with.

“Knowing that the season could end at any moment with one decision is definitely scary,” Klammer said. “Especially because this is the senior season, the one when it means the most.”

 

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