Student athletes from Islip and Oceanside participate during the first day of fall practices on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Receivers ran routes, goalkeepers made saves and runners hit the track across Long Island on Monday for the first official day of interscholastic athletics in the 2021-22 school year.

It wasn't just special for the athletes because it was the first day of fall sports practices. It also was special because it felt so normal compared to the last school year, which was cloaked in uncertainty, restrictions and postponements because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The pandemic is still [here], and we still have to be careful, but it feels great to be playing football again in the fall," Oceanside senior slot receiver Michael Mecca said. "We’re going to have fall Friday night home games and there’s nothing like the feel of those."

All fall sports teams in Suffolk were able to start official practices and football was permitted in Nassau. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk are requiring additional safety protocols this season and are letting the school districts make their own decisions about additional measures.

Last year, the fall sports season was postponed until the spring and all three high school seasons were played over a truncated schedule beginning in January.

On Monday, some fall sports programs were so enthusiastic about the dawning of their new season that they actually met it at dawn.

As the sun rose over the first day of practice for Islip’s high school sports, it’s teams happily greeted it at sunrise on Monday.

In an idea generated by first-year Islip Schools superintendent Dennis O’Hara — called #IslipRising — all of Islip’s teams began their initial practices at sunrise on their home fields. They were met at approximately 6:20 a.m. by a beaming pair of rainbows.

A rainbow sets over a gathering of Islip fall season...

A rainbow sets over a gathering of Islip fall season student-athletes during Islip Rising, a sunrise practice at Islip High School on Monday, August 23, 2021. Credit: James Escher

"The inspiration is just that with every sunrise brings a new day," said O’Hara, who first suggested the concept to Islip athletic director John Sparacio before taking over on July 1. "And this particular day and this sunrise, given everything we’ve been battling across the whole world, it just seems significant to me that this is our first opportunity to get these kids some taste of back to normal.

"But in Islip we’re not trying to get back to normal. We’re trying to get to better. We’re springing forward and we wanted to do it at sunrise the first day that we have athletes out here."

Islip football coach Jamie Lynch also was excited to get going as quickly as possible.

Athletes warm up on the track during Islip Rising, a...

Athletes warm up on the track during Islip Rising, a gathering of Islip fall season student-athletes for a sunrise practice at Islip High School on Monday, August 23, 2021. Credit: James Escher

"It’s kind a new start, new beginning," Lynch said. "So we’re glad to have our new superintendent; he’s big-time into athletics. We’re really looking forward to it. I thought it was great getting all these kids out of bed at 5:30, 5:45 in the morning and having a couple of hundred athletes on the field ready to go."

The Oceanside football program and fourth-year starting quarterback Charlie McKee came up one win short of a championship for the second time in three seasons and are seeking to finally get over the hump. As Sailors coach Rob Blount said of the returning Thorp Award winner, "Charlie’s done almost everything a quarterback here can do and this season we want him to get the final piece: a championship."

"Playing last season in the spring had a certain feel to it because it was the spring and because of the pandemic," McKee said. "This is definitely a different feeling from last year. I'm excited I know my guys are excited too."

There clearly was more than a little excitement at Half Hollow Hills East, where first-year coach Alex Marcelin had 80 players show up and remarked "They’re a group that looks ready to push each other to be better."

Mike Reilly, coach of Islip’s defending Suffolk Class A champion girls soccer program, expressed optimism regarding this season’s outlook.

"Obviously we don’t know what lies ahead, but the kids are deserving of [this] and have earned it with everything they went through," Reilly said. "The coaches earned it, the schools earned it . . . For right now, today’s a great day so I’m going to take every minute of this, enjoy it and soak it up. And hopefully days like this continue."

Islip senior wide receiver/defensive back Jameson Seeger believes this season will be an improvement upon this past spring’s football campaign with COVID-19 health and safety restrictions no longer mandated.

"It’s definitely a lot better," Seeger said. "We don’t have to worry too much about the masks and everything. Last year everything was really annoying with that. Trying to run with a mask on is just hard. Not having to worry about that makes this year a lot easier."

"And we don’t have to worry about testing either. That took time out of our day. At least once a week we had to get tested and took away a lot of practice time. It’s just a lot better this year."

"We’re still plenty aware of the virus being out there," Oceanside senior center Anthony Corvino said. "No one wants to get [symptoms] and end up having to quarantine. We want to get every bit of our senior season so we’ll be careful."


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