It might have only been a quick hour of open-air running, but for the St. Dominic boys and girls cross country teams, it signaled the first step of a possible return to normalcy, and the beginning of a season surrounded by uncertainty.
The two teams held the first practice of the fall 2020 high school sports season on Monday at Charles B. Wang Athletic Complex in Syosset.
"I was just excited to start practicing again," sophomore Croi Spillane said. "This is the best sport to social distance for. So I’m glad we got to start as early as we could. I was just excited to see all my friends on the team and start exercising again."
"This is the new normal but it really felt like we were back and now school really starts," St. Dominic athletic director Matt O’Brien said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of public high school sports in both Nassau and Suffolk County in recent weeks, the Nassau-Suffolk Catholic High School Athletic Association announced on Sept. 11 the nine-school league would begin practice Sept. 21 and competition on Oct. 9 for sports deemed low-risk by the state, including boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, girls tennis and girls swimming.
"It’s different because you don’t have Nassau and Suffolk [public schools] involved," coach Bob Mittleman said. "But having that opportunity and having the athletic directors and principals support us is phenomenal."
Although the runners are not required to wear masks while competing, they must still maintain 6 feet of distance at all times. Spillane said practicing that concept on Monday didn’t feel too unusual.
"I wasn’t expecting that much change," Spillane said. "It was pretty much a normal practice other than wearing masks when arriving and while stretching."
Mittleman said his runners brought exceptional energy during the opening session.
"It was awesome," Mittleman said. "The first day of practice you never know what to expect, but the kids were great. They were all very enthusiastic and ready to rock and roll."
"I’m just so happy that we got back out here and get to do this," Spillane said. "I’m really glad for the seniors getting this chance after last spring’s seniors lost their season."
O’Brien highlighted the added significance of the CHSAA’s return to high school sports.
"The social-emotional help for our kids is tremendous and just to know they have somewhere to go," O’Brien said. "Sports are an extension of education, so to get out here and be part of something bigger can really help drive them to succeed."