Suffolk high school athletic directors are meeting Thursday to discuss having spectators at events and how to proceed after Wednesday night's announcment that higher-risk sports -- football, volleyball and cheerleading -- will be postponed until the spring.
Robert Zayas, the executive director of New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association, announced Wednesday that the higher-risk fall sports statewide will not be played until March 1, 2021.
A decision on whether or not spectators will be allowed at Suffolk high school sporting events this fall is set to be debated among athletic directors later this week, but local athletes have already come to a general consensus. Although having mom, dad, and their classmates in the bleachers is great, they just want to play.
“I will do anything to get on the field, especially being my senior year,” said North Babylon girls soccer player Samantha Muller. “If my parents can come, that’s great. But if not, I just want to play like everyone else…Of course it wouldn’t be ideal, but we’d just have to deal with it.”
NYPHSAA guidance for the return of interscholastic athletics, released in a report drafted by its statewide COVID Task Force Friday night, called for limiting spectators to two per participating athlete. Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, which governs Suffolk, told Newsday last weekend he doesn’t want any spectators at games and will discuss it at Thursday’s meeting of athletic directors.
Section XI is set to follow state guidelines and begin practice and play for low-risk sports — named by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as soccer, field hockey, tennis, cross country, and swimming — on Sept. 21. Higher-risk sports will be allowed to begin restricted practices, but have no date to start competition.
Section VIII (Nassau) will not have high school sports in the fall, instead playing three compressed seasons between January and June in 2021.
Whitman athletic director Jim Wright said he believes that spectators will, at some point, be allowed at Suffolk games, but acknowledged that there are hurdles to making sure the two-spectators-per-athlete rule is enforced. One of those hurdles is what to do for away games or meets, especially when it’s held at an off-campus venue, such as Sunken Meadow State Park for cross country.
“Things that are run off campus, we can’t control the spectator situation there,” Wright said. “We’d have to rely on the other school to give us the word. We’d probably be sending our own security people to away contests at schools. But even to send someone to a cross country meet wouldn’t do us any good because we can’t manage the area.”
Wright believes that this issue will be resolved at the meeting on Thursday.
“We almost have to because, really, we’re almost 12 days away from the start date,” Wright said. “So, the decision to even come back and play is going to have to be made this week, so we can prepare next week for the return.”
Steven Nacht, who’s son Matthew is on the Half Hollow Hills West boys soccer team, said he believes that wearing a mask and being socially distant at a soccer game would not be a problem. He said that, although the important thing is that ‘the kids get to play,’ he would be upset if he couldn’t watch his son.
“I can’t imagine it, to be honest with you,” he said. “But these are the times.”
Eastport — South Manor cross country runner Michael Silveri doesn’t think that having two spectators per athlete will pose that much of a problem at Sunken Meadow, where the 5-kilometer course has plenty of places to stand and watch at a distance.
But, like Muller, Silveri said that if he had to choose between running without spectators and not running at all, he would still choose the thrill of competition above all else.
“I think, in running especially, spectators are important,” the senior said. “It’s hard to keep motivated for a 5K or the two-mile on the track, so the cheering helps. But, at the same time, if it means we can’t have a season if we have to have spectators, then I certainly think that the spectators should be limited because, I really want to have a season.”
Said Sophia Bica, a junior on the Northport field hockey team: “We just want to get out on the field and play together. It’s fun no matter what.”
However, Bica added that empty stands would change the ‘feel’ of a game, especially during a playoff push.
“Once we get [further into the season] the fans help even more,” Bica said. “It just makes it more intense, a more interesting game. Towards that part of the season, they mean a lot more.”
Center Moriches boys soccer coach Chris O’Brien agreed: “You’re going to have to get up for games. I think we’ve seen that translate in the professional ranks too. A team coming from behind won’t have the support of its crowd and things like that, which really spurs on a group.”
For a program like Center Moriches soccer, where community members and alumni make every game an event, no fans in the stands would be an unwelcome change.
“I think that’s going to be a real unfortunate thing if that comes to fruition,” O’Brien said. “A lot of these kids won’t go on to play at a higher level than in high school, and this is their chance to stand out. I honestly feel that it’ll be more like club soccer where there’s a handful of parents there and less like the atmosphere of a good high school game.”
With Laura Amato