Sneakers squeaked against hardwood on Wednesday. There was the sizzle of pom-poms and the echo of voices in unison. The dampened smack of hands slapping padded mats was heard, too.
These were the sounds of winter sports in gymnasiums across Long Island coming to life after some 10 months of silence. Boys and girls basketball, competitive cheerleading and wrestling have finally returned after the global coronavirus pandemic shuttered them last March. It was the first day of practice for the winter sports that were deemed high-risk and only got the go-ahead to play last week.
"We haven’t played on a real court on a hardwood gym since before summer started, so just walking in and seeing the rims down makes me very happy," Bay Shore senior Max Dunn said as boys basketball commenced. Added senior Tayron Bangs, "this means a lot. It just gives me another chance to do what I do: step on the court and make a name for myself."
There’s plenty of reason for the Marauders to be enthused with Island coaching legend Jack Agostino taking over as coach. Agostino won 473 games, nine Long Island championships, four state public school titles and two Federation championships at Amityville before coaching at North Carolina A&T. He said "the Bay Shore community reached out" and that "it felt good to be wanted."
"It’s good having a coach that has won a ring before and I’m hoping we can win one over here," senior Kevonti Broomfield said.
Players weren’t the only ones back doing the things they enjoy. Mount Sinai athletic director Scott Reh put in a long day prepping everyone for the necessary protocols that the high-risk athletes and coaches will have to follow as well as all the cleaning and disinfecting procedures that will have to be followed.
"It was a very exciting day for everyone," Reh said. "And seeing all the smiles and the student-athletes hard at work was a beautiful thing. My job and our staff are trying to create the safest environment possible as our kids get back into a regular swing of things. I was happy to see the wrestlers, girls basketball, boys basketball and our cheerleaders this afternoon back doing what they love."
"We had our first day of tryouts, the numbers are lighter and it was a little nerve-wracking," Baldwin athletic director Ed Ramirez said. "It was great to see them out there participating and laughing and smiling with their friends."
It will be a season unlike any other. In Suffolk there is weekly COVID-19 testing for coaches and student-athletes in the high-risk sports and in Nassau some school districts will test. Teams will be operating with limited or no use of locker rooms because of social distancing guidance. Masks are required for anyone not in competition and urged for those who are.
Bay Shore wrestling coach Alex Porcelli had 53 students turn out for tryouts and had to divide them into smaller groups for the workout. He said "we’ve always been concerned about hygiene in wrestling," but that it will be even more important.
"I will be keeping my mask on [to compete]," senior wrestler Owen Gaskill said. "I think it’s just a respect thing for my opponent. Even if there’s just a small chance of minimizing any sort of risk, I want to take that to make sure everybody’s safe."
"The masks were a challenge for all of us but we were so happy to be back playing it didn't matter," Mount Sinai's senior forward Makayla Hartcorn said. "We'd been training outside together and we were limited to what we could do. It's the last season for the seniors and it meant so much to all of us to be allowed to play again."
At the Baldwin cheerleading tryouts, the student-athletes stretched and then worked on their routines in separate rooms before coming together.
"Then we went over jumps two people at a time and had our tumbling and our stunting," Bruins senior cheerleader Kalea Chiverton said. "We're in high spirits and we're excited that we're moving forward. . . . We’re back in action!"
It’s been a long time coming.
With Gregg Sarra and Owen O'Brien