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Long Island's high school athletes coping with the possibility of canceled season

Babylon lacrosse player Emma Ward, left, and her

Babylon lacrosse player Emma Ward, left, and her mother Jaqui Ward, who is a kindergarten teacher in Brentwood.   Credit: Chris Ware

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High school athletes across Long Island are in limbo as they await word whether the spring season will be salvaged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nassau and Suffolk athletic officials said plans for an abbreviated season are in a holding pattern as they wait for word from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on when schools will reopen. Schools throughout the state are closed through at least April 1.

“It all comes down to when can schools be allowed to open again,” said Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, Nassau school sports' governing body. “If schools are open, we will right away go ahead with the spring sports season.”

Two weeks ago, Nassau and Suffolk officials postponed the start of baseball, softball and lacrosse games until next month. Now, they say they can only hope at least some of the games can be played.

"We're hoping to give the kids as much opportunity as possible,” said Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, Suffolk school sports' governing body. “Nothing is out of the question, but it is all speculation because we have to abide by whatever the governor says.”

State athletic officials said they will decide by April 27 whether to hold state championships for all spring sports. Even if the state championships are canceled, Pizzarelli said, Long Island schools could still hold an abbreviated spring sports schedule.

'I just want to play'

High school athletes are trying to stay upbeat and motivated to keep working out.

Emma Ward, a three-sport star at Babylon High School who signed to play lacrosse at Syracuse next year, said she is staying in shape by throwing a lacrosse ball against a wall and exercising in her driveway with a medicine ball.

"I'm trying to be as optimistic as I can be," Ward said. "Yes, I know it's possible there's no season. But I also know everyone else is in the same situation as I am.

"If they told me all I'm going to get is one more practice, or one more scrimmage, I'll sign up for that in a heartbeat. I'll be out there with no notice. I just want to play."

Gabrielle Gordon, a ninth-grader on the Plainview JFK softball team, shares that hope.

"I am praying for a breakthrough, for a change, maybe a miracle," she said.

Commack senior Shannon Smith, who plays lacrosse, said: “It feels like every day I’m losing hope that we’ll get back out there.”

Teams are prohibited from officially practicing. Nassau and Suffolk officials also are restricting players from running their own unofficial practices.

“Honestly, I haven’t been doing anything recently to keep in shape,” said Uniondale senior Jadan Hanson, a nationally ranked triple jumper. “It seems like, at this point, that the season is eventually going to get shut down.”

Those who are working out are doing it on their own or in small groups. On social media, baseball and softball players are posting videos of themselves hitting off a tee and lacrosse players are posting clips of themselves shooting into an empty net.

Last hurrah for some

For seniors who are not going to play in college, they could be missing out on their last athletic season.

Although some Division II and Division III schools were interested in her, Smith, who has been on varsity ,since her freshman year,  chose to attend Penn State for academics.

“There’s nine seniors and I’ve been playing with all of them since third grade,” she said. “And I was looking forward to having one last time to play the sport I fell in love with with them. So it’s just upsetting that I may not be able to do that one more time.”

For seniors who are committed to playing sports in college, they are now faced with new concerns.

The NCAA canceled the spring season and afforded all college seniors an extra year of eligibility to make up for it. The NCAA has yet to say how it will go about relaxing scholarship limits. This means high school seniors will face additional competition for playing time in college.

Longtime Northport girls lacrosse coach and prominent girls lacrosse club coach Carol Rose said “the entire [high school] senior class will be impacted” by college seniors receiving an additional year of eligibility.

Jaqui Ward, Emma's mother, said the NCAA rules will definitely have an impact on incoming college freshmen.

"We would be silly to think otherwise," said Jaqui Ward, a kindergarten teacher in Brentwood. "What impact it will have is still unknown at this time. I think that a lot of different pieces will play into it and we are in a 'wait and see' mode."

Chance to be recruited

For high school juniors, it's a time when many with ambitions of playing in college are looking to make strong impressions on the field to get recruited.

“I look at the juniors as having the most to think about because they’re already trying to figure out where to go, and now they’re faced with this,” Whitman athletic director Jim Wright said. “How many colleges will change their recruiting strategies because of a sudden logjam of players at a position? We don’t know the answers to this."

The NCAA has announced a recruiting “dead period” until at least April 15 for Division I and II schools, which means no in-person recruiting on or off campus for coaches. The NCAA, however, is allowing written correspondence and telephone calls in Division I and II through the dead period.

All eyes remain on Cuomo for what happens next with the schools.

"It's like, where do we go from here?" Gordon said. "It's been a very big adjustment coming to terms with the fact that we're probably not going to have a varsity season.

"I pray that there is one, hopefully, but it's not looking great."

With Laura Albanese and Gregg Sarra

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