The message from Long Island student-athletes participating in high-risk winter sports is clear cut and unanimous. They’ll take what they can get.
After months of unknowns and doubts concerning the fate of high-risk sports, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put out a directive Friday that high-risk sports (including boys and girls basketball, wrestling and cheerleading) could resume if approved locally starting February 1.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday that high-risk sports would be played within the health department guidelines.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told Newsday that the county's health department also has given a go-ahead for high-risk winter sports. Those guidelines are expected to be released Wednesday morning.
But for the first time in nearly a year, athletes in high-risk sports can begin training with an official varsity start date in mind. The seasons are expected to run the four weeks in February for Nassau and Suffolk County sports.
"It’s been a real uplifter for a lot of my friends I play with," said Jaden Kealey, a senior on the Center Moriches boys basketball team. "A lot of them just mentally feel back in a good place. They feel happier overall knowing that we get something."
Kealey is looking to getting back on the court and competing with his teammates — albeit in a shortened season. Just a few weeks ago, he didn’t think it was a realistic possibility the state and county would approve high-risk sports.
"Looking back at it, I thought it was a long shot just with the cases being higher than they were when they said we couldn’t do anything," Kealey said. "So it kind of seemed unrealistic for a little while. But as people were talking about there actually being a season, it was definitely shocking and really exciting."
John McCaffrey, Deer Park boys basketball coach and president of the Suffolk County Boys Basketball Coaches Association, said he felt the state and county would eventually approve high-risk sports this school year. He’s happy it was done in time for the winter sports to have a month-long season.
"It’s going to be crazy busy," McCaffrey said. "But to be honest with you, if they told me we had to get this all done in one night, every coach, administrator and athletic director would sign up to do it because the fact that we can do this on February 1 is awesome."
Nassau County will not have postseason games or competitions for high-risk winter sports.
Erin Leary, a senior on the Carle Place girls basketball team, isn’t concerned about the lack of a postseason. She’s grateful to have one final season with her two sisters, Amanda and Caitlin. Erin actually joined the Carle Place bowling team to continue competing but will go back to basketball February 1.
"At this point, just anything is worth it because you don’t realize how good it was," Erin said. "Like our last season and all the seasons I’ve had before, I didn’t realize how special those moments were until they were taken away."
Dayrien Franklin, a senior on the Center Moriches boys basketball team, tried to stay positive throughout the process.
"I was hoping for the best," he said. "I always kept a positive approach toward it. Some people were saying ‘You guys aren’t going to have a season’ but I always tried to stay hopeful."
Remi Sisselman, a senior on the Half Hollow Hills East girls basketball team, said she was more surprised by how long the state took to allow basketball. But even if she only ends up playing one game, she’s happy to be back on the court.
"There’s nothing like your senior season," Sisselman said. "You go your hardest because it’s the last time you are going to put on your school’s jersey, so I’m so happy that I’m able to have a season."
Keira Young, a senior cheerleader at Wantagh, didn’t think cheerleading would be approved this year. But the thought of not having that final moment upset her — having no inclination that last year’s county championship meet could be her final time on the mat for the Warriors. Young isn’t worried about the shortened season, or that the competition could look different — she just wants to come back to compete. "As much as I can get, that’s all that I can ask for, even if it’s just one competition," Young said. "As long as I know it’s my last and I get to have my goodbye and be back with my team one more time."
Chase Liardi, a senior wrestler at Massapequa, is thankful to have any semblance of a season. But he’s also disappointed to be unable to compete for a state title after losing in the state final last winter.
"As soon as that match was over, I was thinking, ‘I’ve got next year. I’m going to do whatever I can do to get here next year and win,’" Liardi said. "And it’s definitely frustrating and I’m just going to have to overcome it. I can’t get mad at something I can’t control, so I have to push past it and be grateful I can compete with my teammates again."
Jordan Titus, winner of two state championships, said he would love to wrestle for another title, but never second-guessed wanting to return.
"I knew I wanted to compete right away," the Center Moriches senior said. "I love wrestling, so anything to get back on the mat is awesome."
Mike McLaughlin, Deer Park coach and President of the Suffolk County Wrestling Coaches Association, admitted he was shocked and surprised, but also excited, that the state allowed a wrestling season. He hopes there will be at least nine dual meets but is unsure about a team or individual championship.
"It’s not an easy challenge, but as wrestling coaches, we don’t shy away from challenges," McLaughlin said. "We try to take them head-on and run right at them, so that’s what we’ll do here."
Part of the Suffolk County Health Department guidelines requires weekly COVID-19 testing. Bellone also asked athletes and coaches to sign a ‘Community Champion Pledge,’ committing to follow all protocols while on and off the field for public safety. Long Island student-athletes support this.
"Honestly I don’t mind it," Kealey said. "A lot of the guys know the seriousness of this disease as we’ve all learned over this past year, so I think a lot of guys are going to take precautions to stay safe. And getting tested is just another precaution going along with this season."
Myles Goddard, a senior on the Amityville boys basketball team and a second-team All-Long Island selection last winter, didn’t think this moment would come.
"When the cases started rising again in the winter, I was thinking we most likely wouldn’t have [a season]," Goddard said. "When I got the news, I was surprised. But I was so thankful."
The student-athletes are aware that just because they start a season, doesn’t mean they’ll finish one. So they are thankful for whatever opportunities they get.
"I’m ready," Sisselman said. "And I know we can only play one game and the season could end, so I’m going to fight my hardest and play my best basketball for each game that we are guaranteed."