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Great Neck School District opts out of high-risk winter sports

The Great Neck South cheerleading team performs during

The Great Neck South cheerleading team performs during a Nassau County competition held at East Meadow High School on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. Credit: James Escher

The Great Neck School District announced it will not participate in the high-risk high school sports of wrestling, competitive cheerleading and boys and girls basketball in the winter season.

"We were notified late Thursday that the Great Neck District would pull out of high-risk sports for our winter season, which starts Feb. 1," said Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, which governs all Nassau’s interscholastic athletics. "The decision was based out of an abundance of caution."

The district does plan to put together intra-district schedules between its two schools, Great Neck North and Great Neck South.

Dave Zawatson, director of athletics for Great Neck Schools, did not return calls for comment.

"It’s disheartening to have future memories and dreams stripped away from them before they can get to experience them," said Steve Cronin, who has two sons, Jackson and Luke, on the Great Neck North basketball team. "So many people worked so hard to make this a possibility and now it’s not happening. It’s devastating emotionally and socially, especially for the seniors, who see this opportunity disappear."

Cronin said the district notified parents of the decision in an email late Thursday.

"The email also said they would entertain intra-district play, like intramurals," Cronin said. "If you strip away all the dreams, then come up with something creative. I’m hoping our board of education could bubble our two basketball programs here at Great Neck North and Great Neck South and have a best-of-seven championship series on Great Neck TV and give us something wonderful to remember — make it positive."

Jackson Cronin, a 6-2 point-guard, led Nassau Conference A-II in scoring as a junior. Cronin was accepted to the University of Kansas, and his father Steve said he was offered a spot on the men's basketball team as a preferred walk-on. Luke Cronin, a 6-6 sophomore, also played varsity last year.

"It’s been an extremely emotional time for our family," Cronin said. "My boys were also teammates of Jo-Jo Wright (who died in a car accident Wednesday) and that has been extremely difficult for our family. He was such a fantastic young man, and his death is shocking."

The Great Neck District joined Uniondale as the first two schools in Section VIII to opt out of the high-risk sports for the winter season. For scheduling purposes, Pizzarelli said the county will match the schools that were supposed to play Great Neck North and South against each other.

"We can’t keep doing schedules over when a school opts out, so we’re pairing the schools that need opponents up with each other regardless of classification," Pizzarelli said. "There are going to be challenges but we’re ready to do whatever it takes to get these student-athletes safely back on the courts and the fields."

Lawrence, which originally opted out of all winter sports, opted back in for boys and girls basketball but will not move forward with its wrestling program. Roslyn also announced it will not have a wrestling team this winter.

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