Excitement for the start of a new season turned to disappointment on Friday when Suffolk County high school sports officials postponed athletics until Jan. 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was made after a meeting of the county’s Athletic Council, a group comprised of athletic directors, teachers and an executive board. All fall sports — boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls tennis, girls golf, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming — will move into a three condensed seasons plan from January to June.
Section XI, which governs Suffolk’s interscholastic sports, originally planned to begin practices on Sept. 21, following Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's announcement last month that would permit lower risk sports — soccer, tennis, cross country, field hockey and swimming — to compete.
“Me and the guys have been working all summer long, almost every day, getting ready for September 21,” said Lindenhurst senior soccer player Owen Santos. “And then, 10 days before, they’re like, 'Yeah, we’re pushing it back.' We worked all summer. We want to play.”
“I’m just in shock right now,” said Lauren Trejo, a senior cross country runner at Sachem East. “When I was talking to college coaches the other day, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m so excited for my season. It’s coming up in almost a month.' Now, I don’t have that.”
Rocky Point senior field hockey player Kelly Logue called the decision “heartbreaking,” adding that she and her teammates had been working together throughout the offseason. The Eagles fell to Bayport-Blue Point 1-0 in last season’s Suffolk B championship and were hoping for another chance at the title this fall.
“We’ve been extremely motivated after what happened last year,” Logue said. “We have been trying to work as hard as we can. By pushing it back, it’s just terrible.”
Despite the frustration, many Suffolk coaches also expressed a sense of understanding, particularly when it came to meeting the guidelines released by the state in a 49-page document on Sept. 4.
“The regulations that were being discussed of locker room and busing seem to make sports very difficult, and there’s nobody that wants sports back more than our kids and our coaches and our families,” said North Babylon girls soccer and baseball coach Steve Corrado said. “We have to focus on the schools first and when that’s in place, maybe having the extra time to set up sports seasons from January to June will be more beneficial.”
“Section XI tried every last ditch effort to save it, they really tried to save it,” said Fran Sullivan, who coaches girls cross country at Miller Place. “I think they realized now that they just couldn’t do it. It’s just too many things.”
“My heart breaks for all of our athletes affected by this decision,” said Ward Melville field hockey coach Shannon Sioss, “but I do understand how safety is everyone’s first priority in making this extremely difficult decision.”
With another wait ahead of them before they can get on the field, athletes are now tasked with keeping their focus. Islip girls soccer coach Mike Reilly said he didn't think that would be a problem.
“I don’t think we give our students enough credit. I think they are a lot more mature than we think,” he said. “I think they have a good grasp on it. Obviously it’s going to be upsetting but again staying positive, I think they will understand the reason behind it.”
There was also optimism among Suffolk athletes that there is still a plan for the season, and while sports have been postponed, they haven’t been canceled.
“Of course I was really, really looking forward to playing my season right now,” said Samantha Muller, a senior on the North Babylon girls soccer team. “But if that’s what they feel is going to keep everyone safe and healthy, we are going to just have to do that and keep an optimistic mindset and hope we are going to be able to play at all this year.”
— with Owen O’Brien, Jordan Lauterbach, Peter Kersich