Ed Modica is the man behind the mask.
He's been St. Anthony’s head athletic trainer for the past 12 years. In the pre-COVID-19 era, he usually would start his day at the Catholic high school in South Huntington at 1 p.m. That was in the pre-COVID-19 era. His day would end between 7 and 11 p.m. each night after school sports ended.
That has all changed.
Now, in the year of COVID-19, Modica’s days begin at 6:30 a.m. and can last as long as 14 hours. He is the coordinator for the COVID response team at St. Anthony’s. The long, exhausting days are indicative of his demanding job, which is all about safety 24/7.
"It is the only way to keep our students and faculty safe," Modica said. "We get in early and start testing as people arrive at school. There is a commitment to health first and foremost. And having our after-school activities makes for longer-than-normal days."
Through the diligent efforts of Modica and his staff, and trainers at Long Island’s other eight Catholic schools, the fall sports season in boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming and touch football was completed.
Modica’s role as chief athletic trainer for St. Anthony’s has taken on a new meaning in the past eight months. He is one of the first ones among the first to greet faculty, staff and students when they arrive at school. He bounces between two entry points where 12 IPAD scanners are used to check approximately 1,500 people each morning.
Each test takes about three seconds. "The most important three seconds of everyone’s day," Modica said. "Those temperature scans are critical to a safe day in school. It also gives everyone peace of mind."
Modica is assisted by two security guards and four rotating faculty members each morning.
"There is an hour and a half of temperature scanning for faculty and staff before our students arrive," Modica said. "The students start arriving and are immediately tested."
The additional hours have taken a toll on Modica.
"It’s immensely stressful and taxing on your mind and body,'' he said. "When I get home, I try to spend a few minutes doing things around the house before I pass out. There are house errands and yardwork to do. And it’s especially affected family time — it’s all taken a back seat."
Modica, 51, of Massapequa, is divorced and has three sons. Eddie, 23, is in medical school. Robert, 21, is a senior baseball player at Mount St. Vincent. Mark, 17, is a senior who runs track at St. Anthony’s.
To completely fill his plate, Modica also serves as an international host for the school’s University Track program and can have up to four exchange students from China, Hong Kong and Italy and throughout all over the world living in his home during the school year.
"There’s always the potential for a contact situation, so I have to be mindful of my own family and the students that live with me," he said. "Personal hygiene is extremely important and just being focused and conscientious of everything I do. I can’t be paranoid, but I am walking on eggshells all the time."
A typical day for Modica starts with temperature scans before he opens the airflow stations throughout the school, one of the critical safety criteria protocols with the Suffolk County Board of Health.
He monitors the lunch areas and cohort areas for COVID compliance all day and writes a COVID school report that is submitted daily to the New York State Department of Health for review.
"We’ve had 12 positive cases in school in three months," Modica said. "There were 10 students and two teachers. And we thoroughly investigated each case to find that all had come from outside influences, from what we can tell."
Joe Minucci, the director of athletics at St. Anthony’s, called the fall sports season extremely challenging but well worth it for the student-athletes. He said they couldn’t have done it without Modica.
"We had to figure out how we would enforce all the mandates in school first and then figure out the extra layers of safety for school sports," Minucci said. "Ed and our staff put a plan in place to get the kids changed in small groups. They scanned everyone who came back to campus from learning remotely or coming back after going home and made sure the athletes were physically ready to perform so we could avoid injuries."
Modica’s daily routine is mimicked throughout the CHSAA.
Ralph Dalton, the director of athletics at St. John the Baptist, echoed Minucci’s sentiments. He detailed summer-long Zoom meetings with school administrators and the staff at those schools for implementing protocols. He was pleased with St. John’s trainer Theresa Knips, who works tirelessly all day every day to enforce the safety guidelines.
"It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go, we’re playing and get on the field,’ " Dalton said. "I have to commend our athletic trainer and Lorraine Bouklas, the director of our entire Catholic girls program, as they did a phenomenal job. We came together as a group and really wanted to give the athletes something to look forward to and do it as safely as possible.
"The pandemic has been extremely difficult from a mental aspect. It affects them in everyday life, in the classroom and in thinking about the future. There is a fear, and getting back to some normalcy and having a scaled-back fall season was such a vital move."
Said Bouklas, "We have so much to be thankful for from the [administration], coaches, players and parents. We managed a difficult situation not just from a competitive standpoint but from a mental health standpoint."
Kellenberg director of athletics John Fechtmann and school administrator Christopher Cartier were responsible for the COVID response in their school.
"We communicate with faculty, parents and the Department of Health on what’s going on in the school," Fechtmann said. "We have temperature checks every day. We used tents and assigned small groups to change after school. And I met with every team when practice started and told them, ‘All eyes are on us. We have to do it safely.’
"We had no transmission as a result of our fall sports season. Our member schools have been diligent in enforcing the tight restrictions and following the rules — thus the success — to finish the season on a high note."