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Manhasset athletes in high-risk sports must be tested and learn remotely

Manhasset boys basketball coach George Bruns.

Manhasset boys basketball coach George Bruns. Credit: James Escher

The Manhasset School District announced Monday that student-athletes who participate in the high-risk winter sports — wrestling, boys and girls basketball and competitive cheerleading — will be required to have weekly COVID-19 tests and do remote learning.

Manhasset is the first district in Nassau County to require its high-risk athletes to be tested. Suffolk County announced last week that all high-risk athletes are required to be tested weekly while Nassau County left that decision up to the districts.

"The PCR testing is a good idea as the district is taking steps to keep the athletes eligible and safe and also in keeping the kids in school safe," Manhasset wrestling coach Stephon Sair said. "It’s a very good precaution for everyone, including staff."

PCR tests, which detect the genetic material specific to the virus within days of infection, take two or three days to process and are nearly 100% accurate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Manhasset also is the first district to require high-risk athletes to learn remotely. The district has a hybrid model with students going to school two or three days a week and learning remotely the other days.

"It provides a safer place for our guys to compete and less chance of them being exposed to COVID because they’re learning from home," said Sair, in his 11th season. "On the flip side, if I’m a parent and I have a kid that struggles academically while learning remote, I would want them in school learning."

The uncertainty surrounding the return of high-risk sports and the requirement of remote learning has caused some athletes to opt-out of the month-long season.

Sair said four wrestlers have opted out, but the team still has 30 wrestlers on the roster.

The Manhasset girls basketball program had 33 girls between the varsity (15) and junior varsity (18) last season. According to coach Lauren Sadeh, there are only 12 players available this season as many have opted out for a variety of reasons.

"We will not be able to field a junior varsity team as we have 12 girls right now," said Sadeh, in her 10th season. "We lost five players on our varsity. One deterrent was that if you play interscholastic sports you cannot participate with outside clubs during the season . . . Some of the girls told me they were afraid of COVID. It’s the nature of the beast and I’m disappointed and bummed about it. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in the program. This season will be a product of the pandemic. I didn’t think going full remote for a month would turn some kids away - but it has."

Three players on the boys basketball team opted out because their parents wanted them in school, according to boys basketball coach George Bruns.

"They’re faced with a tough choice of balancing the benefit of being in the classroom as to being on the team," Bruns said. "There’s nothing more precious to us than our children, so it’s up to individual parents. The school is doing the right thing being protective."

Bruns, the coach of the boys program for 19 years, said the additional safety guidelines have merit, especially when the design is to maximize safety and minimize risk.

"It makes sense," he said. "We had testing Sunday and it took a couple of seconds."

Jim Amen, the director of athletics for the Manhasset School District, did not return phone calls or email for comment.

"I’m all for the testing. It makes it safer," Sair said. "But there’s still an issue when other teams come here to wrestle, because we’re still entrusting the other districts that they’re all safe . . . We tested everyone for the first time [Sunday]. If one person tested positive the season is basically done."

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