The intersection of real life and sports has turned March madness into March sadness.
From professional sports to college games, right down to athletics at the high school and middle school levels, the coronavirus pandemic has taken the fun out of America’s games. Seasons have been suspended or cut short. Tournaments have been canceled. When will the sports calendar resume?
Asked Thursday afternoon if spring high school sports seasons were in danger, Section XI executive director Tom Combs told the News-Review: “If I had a crystal ball, I’d be able to tell you that, but unfortunately, what’s happening now is changing by the minute. It’s very difficult to say, other than we want to prevent” further spread of the coronavirus.
[UPDATE: 9:30 a.m. — Section XI announced this morning all spring sports games and scrimmages are suspended until April 3, at which point the situation will be reassessed.]
Combs said a number of middle schools have shut down the remaining two weeks of their modified winter II seasons for wrestling, boys volleyball and girls basketball. Greenport and Southold are among them, he said. Riverhead has confirmed that it has done the same for its middle school girls basketball and wrestling teams.
Greenport’s athletic secretary, Joan Dinizio, said in a Facebook post that the school’s varsity and junior varsity practices and competitions have been suspended until April 13.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth said: “At this time, we have not received notice from Section XI or NYSPHSAA regarding the global cancellation of the Spring Sport Season among Section XI school districts in Suffolk County. We will closely monitor these scheduled events and subsequently notify you of any potential changes. Currently we do have scheduled competitions against other schools next week that have been postponed due to the cancellation of their schools.”
Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks declined to comment, but a message posted on the Riverhead Central School District website stated, “In the next few days, the Riverhead Central School District will be suspending/postponing many activities and will be re-evaluating the need for future cancellations after spring recess.” The school district noted that outdoor use of school facilities will continue with no access to the school buildings.
Section XI, the governing body for interscholastic sports in Suffolk County, has 59 high schools and 84 middle schools under its authority. The section posted a proactive health and safety message on its website Thursday morning that states that its safety committee, “in conjunction with the Suffolk County Department of Health and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] recommends that we avoid large gatherings especially in densely populated areas to limit the exposure/transmission of the coronavirus. As a result, we face the challenge of being cautious without overreacting and to reduce potential exposure without negatively impacting the high school experience for all students.”
Section XI has recommended limiting or not allowing spectators at its contests and urging athletes to use elbow bumps instead of handshakes, in addition to promoting proper hygienic measures against COVID-19.
“Universal precautions, really, [are] what we’re talking about, and if you are sick with an upper respiratory thing, stay home,” Combs said. “We’re all trying to do the best for our student-athletes, keep them as safe as possible.”
Concern over coronavirus led to the search for new venues for two high school girls basketball state tournament games that were to be played Sunday at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue and two boys basketball state tournament games that were to be played Sunday at Farmingdale State College, after those colleges withdrew as hosts. Those games, which didn’t involve local teams, were rescheduled to be played at various high schools — until they were postponed.
The New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association, which oversees 783 high schools and nearly 600,000 students across the state, announced Thursday that its winter regional and state championships will be postponed indefinitely. The impacted events include the bowling, ice hockey, boys basketball and girls basketball regional and state championships. The NYSPHSAA said that as disappointing as that is, it “does not outweigh our responsibility and obligation to ensure students participate in a healthy and safe environment.”
In a statement, NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas said: “It was my goal to complete the winter championships on schedule. It has become increasingly more difficult to host these championship events with the number of challenges that have been presented. I also have concerns as the Executive Director of NYSPHSAA and a parent, that students will be participating in an event under circumstances that are not conducive to a quality and beneficial participation experience.”
Later, Zayas tweeted, “I had to make a difficult decision today …”
Three area athletes — Shoreham-Wading River senior Nicole Garcia (3,000 meters), Riverhead senior Tyreek Parker (55 hurdles) and SWR junior Blake Wehr (high jump) — were to compete in the New Balance Nationals Indoor track and field meet. The meet, which was scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The Armory in Manhattan, was canceled, however.
“Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and out of concern for the safety of all athletes, coaches and families, we’ve decided it’s in the best interest of all parties to cancel the meet,” meet director Jim Spier said in a statement posted on the meet’s website. “It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make.”
Wehr was also to compete in the USTAF Hershey National Youth Indoor Championships March 20-22 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. That meet has been canceled as well. USA Track & Field chief executive officer Max Siegel said in a statement: “Due to concerns over the increasing public health risk with the COVID-19 virus in and around New York City, the local organizing committee thought it prudent to cancel the event. We support the decision and continue to monitor this unprecedented situation in our country. The welfare of our members remains a top priority.”
This has been a trying time for athletic administrators, juggling meetings, phone calls and text messages while developments rapidly evolve.
“My phone’s blowing up,” Combs said. “Every day it’s something different.”
On Wednesday night the NBA announced that it was suspending its season following that evening’s games. The NHL followed suit Thursday. One day after news circulated that the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be played in largely empty arenas, with no fans other than players’ families, both tournaments were canceled.
Major League Soccer also suspended its season. Major League Baseball put spring training on hold and pushed back the start to its regular season by at least two weeks.
“We’re closely monitoring what the NCAA is doing,” Combs said. “We’re trying to make informed decisions.”
Asked if he had any words of advice, Combs said, “Just stay safe.”