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Long Island's Catholic high school sports programs get rolling with practices

Senior Amanda Watson, left, leads warmups during the

Senior Amanda Watson, left, leads warmups during the St. John the Baptist girls soccer team's first practice of the season in West Islip on Saturday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The shrill sound of a whistle pierced the midday heat at Kellenberg. Feet raced over the green turf at St. John the Baptist. Players in Holy Trinity uniforms used tightly strung rackets to rocket tennis balls around Hicksville’s Cantiague Park.

High school sports have returned to Long Island for what is shaping up to be a very unconventional season amid the COVID-19 pandemic and these were just a few of the signs on Saturday.

With extensive state-mandated protocols, schools were permitted Monday to restart sports for the first time since the coronavirus halted them in the second week of March. The Island’s nine Catholic schools started up over the course of the past week and now are all having tryouts and practices for low-risk sports with games to start in October.

The two governing bodies for Long Island’s public schools — Section VIII in Nassau and Section XI in Suffolk — have opted to play no sports until 2021, citing safety concerns. Public schools in both will play three compressed seasons from January to June.

"I’ve been amazed at how eager the kids have been to get back to competing," St. Mary’s athletic director Pat Welsh said. "I believe it’s the reason they have embraced the new (protocols) and followed them to the letter of the law. They know what is at stake if they don’t, and they don’t want to lose their season."

"The guys were very excited," said Kellenberg football coach Kevin Hanifan, who this fall will coach the Firebirds in no-contact flag football. "With what’s been going on in this world the last six months, it’s important . . . But I told all of them before practice, ‘All of you guys who play spring sports already know that all of this can be taken away in a heartbeat, and it can happen again if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.’"

The student-athletes once again will have the structure and accountability and school pride that comes with competition. Other things come with that, too.

"I made so many friends playing high school soccer," Holy Trinity girls soccer player Jamie Murphy said. "Today was our first practice but it was so good to see everyone."

"I definitely think (it’s advantageous) that college coaches will get to see us play now," St. John the Baptist girls soccer player Amanda Watson said. "I’m really appreciative that we have the chance to play this fall."

Current NCAA rules prohibit in-person evaluation of recruits, but there at least will be game video to send out.

"It’s important not only to play soccer, or any sport, and represent your school," SJB boys soccer coach Nick Gallagher said. "It’s great that we get back to some normalcy."

It’s not exactly normal, though. The student-athletes have to wear masks unless, as state rules say, they cannot be tolerated during competition. Murphy said the Titans wore them throughout their first practice. Players also have to maintain social distancing whenever possible. There are matters of limiting the size of groups, which forced Hanifan to separate players into different sections of the field Saturday.

"Look, it’s all different than it used to be, but it’s still been great to have athletics starting up," Chaminade AD Don Scarola said. "Kids are getting to do what they want. The numbers coming out for teams have been excellent . . . A Saturday practice used to be ‘just show up and go to it,’ but now there’s temperature checks for everyone and attendance and everything involved with keeping it safe. But this is 2020."

This story was reported by John Boell, Roger Rubin and Mike Ruiz and was written by Rubin.

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