High school sports during a pandemic

Disappointment surrounding delays, yet hope for condensed seasons


In the midst of what would be the fall season, student athletes and their athletic directors discussed their frustration with postponement.

“I am definitely disappointed,” said Courtney Muchow, a senior at William Floyd High School who plays soccer in the fall and runs winter and spring track. “I think about the possibility of losing Senior Day, as it would be my last season on the team.”

But they also expressed their hopes for seasons in spring 2021. There are plans for condensed winter, fall and spring seasons, beginning with the winter season on Jan. 4. Patchogue-Medford Schools athletic director Ryan Cox said that he remains optimistic that the eight-week seasons starting in January will come to fruition.

“The beauty of the schedule, regardless of what you think about it, there is no overlap,” he said. “Our kids are going to still have opportunities to participate in multiple sports without the overlap. A student athlete who is a three-sport athlete in three different seasons will have that ability to participate in all three seasons, though they are condensed.”

However, Ryan McIntyre, the South Country School District athletic director, pointed out the potential caveat of an outbreak or hesitation from local officials to allow the seasons in the spring.

“We still have to wait for [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] to approve high-risk sports,” McIntyre said. “The virus is still here. As long as we are doing our job with social distancing, we can keep that rate down. It is going to be a big challenge, and I worry about that because we do have a plan in place to do it, but are the leaders going to say that it is safe to do it? I am still not sure.”

McIntyre mentioned that NFL teams are currently dealing with positive cases.

“I think they will look to the NFL, they are going to look to the NCAA, and they are going to say, 'If they have all the money in the world to prevent it and they are still getting cases, how could we possibly do it?’ My job is to say, ‘Let's find a way,’” McIntyre said. “We have a plan in place to reacclimate our athletes.”

Senior athletes missed their spring seasons in the latter half of their junior year, too. The health concerns around high-risk sports continue to loom. Bobby DeSantis, a three-sport student-athlete and senior at Bellport High School, said that he and several other students anticipated at least the postponement of the fall season.

“Just listening to the news and respected officials of that nature, I was not very hopeful of the season starting on time,” said DeSantis, who plays football, basketball, and lacrosse for the school. “Though it still did have an impact on me. I remember texting our football group chat that night, and there were definitely some kids who were upset, sharing those disappointed emotions, considering we have been working toward this pretty much since we started playing football when we were 6 or 7 years old.”

Patchogue-Medford’s Paulina Rutkowski, a volleyball and lacrosse player, also expressed that she was not surprised to see a lack of normalcy to sports seasons this fall. When asked about the possibility of losing sports altogether in the spring, too, Rutkowski said that would be even more devastating, considering the futures of countless student-athletes.

“I couldn't imagine going through a senior year without any type of season,” she said. “I have been on varsity for both sports since freshman year. For three years, this is the season I have really been waiting for. Even if we get a month, a little bit less or more for each sport, you can't beat it.”

Calvin Pedatella, a teammate of DeSantis and another student athlete at Bellport High School, expressed frustration considering the gradual postponement over the summer months.

“They kept on telling us we were going to start on one date and then they kept on just slowly pushing it back. They were kind of messing with our emotions,” Pedatella said. “We were supposed to start in June, then August, then September... then it just kept getting pushed back. It would be nice if they would tell us you are either playing or you are not playing so I can just make the decision of what I am going to do.

Emily Zahralban is a classmate of both Pedatella and DeSantis, and Zahralban is a racewalker as well as a distance runner. She said the cancellation of the spring track season stymied her progress, and so did the postponement of the fall season.

“It affected me in a personal way,” Zahralban said. “I relied on my senior season more because from ninth through 11th grade, I focused more on racewalking, which is an Olympic-development sport for college. In order for me to get to a team by colleges, I would really depend on my cross country senior year season to get noticed because that is when track and cross country runners talk to the coaches, their senior year. Now, I am in a position where I don't know what I want to do, where I am going. I am just very undecided.

Muchow, from William Floyd, who also runs track, said that the lack of participation with the team during practices and meets has inevitably decreased her inclination to run as consistently.

“It messed up my whole schedule,” she said. “It is not the same as if I was actually there.”

Patchogue-Medford senior Aidan McBride pointed out the interruption regarding recruitment and scouting for college teams, especially considering the delayed seasons.

“I am just hoping that we get to play as much as we can for each sport and get as much tape in each sport so we can get it out to the coaches,” said McBride, who plays football in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. “In football season, people commit right after [the season ends], so they know where they are going by December. Now, athletes won't know where they are going until mid-May.”

At Patchogue-Medford High School, athletic director Cox has allowed small groups of teammates to condition and practice together for an hour each day after school, separated by cohorts.

“[It is] a six-week program that will allow for 11 to 12 hours per team, see some of their teammates in their cohort, and start preparing themselves for the upcoming season,” Cox explained. “We are excited about that.”


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