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Riverhead players, coaches distraught over decision to cut sports

Riverhead head football coach Leif Shay directs his

Riverhead head football coach Leif Shay directs his team against Newfield in a Suffolk II playoff game at Riverhead on Nov. 16, 2013. Credit: Daniel De Mato

The Riverhead Central School District's decision to eliminate sports for one year amid budget cuts left many in the community distraught and disappointed.

All varsity, junior varsity and middle-school sports programs are gone for the year, saving more than $960,000, after the district was forced to adopt a "contingency" budget. A larger $147.1 million spending plan was rejected in two consecutive ballots. The second attempt failed by just 59 votes. School concerts and other after-school music performances, along with most student clubs, field trips and late buses were also cut.  

“It's an extremely sad situation for our community and our students,” said Brian Sacks, in his fourth year as the director of health, physical education and athletics for the district. “Our Board of Education said there would be no after-school activities, which includes sports, music, drama, all of it. The cutbacks came after our school budget failed not once, but twice.”

Coaches at the high school said the decision will be detrimental for years to come.

“It'll take us years to recover and rebuild our athletic programs,” said Leif Shay, the Blue Waves head football coach for 22 years. “I’m hearing some of our kids are looking to attend Catholic schools."

“It’ll take at least five, six years to bring it back,” baseball coach Rob Maccone said. “This is crushing news to the spring sports athletes. My seniors will have missed the final two years of their baseball careers."

Senior Matt Powers, a 6-foot, 200-pound defensive end/tight end for the football team, said the news was a shock to him.

“We were worried about the pandemic and possibly no football and now this,” he said. “I had seven older brothers go through this football program and play for Coach Shay, and this is my senior year. I’ve looked forward to my opportunity to represent my school in the blue and white ever since I was in the fourth grade and a water boy for the varsity team. This is just mind blowing.”

Powers said some teammates are transferring to other schools, some are staying, and some don’t know what to do.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” he said. “Everyone has different emotions.”

Junior Deontae Sykes, a 6-2, 245-pound college football prospect, said his decision on what to do now kept him up all night.

“I couldn’t sleep at all,” said Sykes, a defensive end/tight end. “I’ve been training all summer, lifting weights in my basement, running around the neighborhood, getting ready. It’s sad. I might transfer to either Westhampton, St. John the Baptist or Lindenhurst. This is my recruitment year.”

Sacks said no one really knew when sports might return amid the pandemic, but the players remained hopeful it would come back at some point this year. This news means players and coaches have nothing to look forward to.

“We didn't even know if we were going to have any type of season this fall with the pandemic," Sacks said. "But now we have nothing to hope for through the entire school year. Now our students cannot be part of a team or a program that the school offered and enjoy that life experience. They'll go home at 2:30 p.m. every day and have nothing to do. It's really sad."

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