Riverhead is back in the sports game. By gosh, it’s been a while.
Monday marked the first day of spring sports practice, time for Riverhead High School to get back to the business of fun and games. Riverhead sports returned to action for the first time in — and this is no misprint — 410 days! It was back on March 13, 2020, when Riverhead put a halt to its sports programs, just several practices into the spring season, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As if the worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, Riverhead fell victim to a double whammy when its school budget failed and cuts were made. The school’s sports programs were eliminated for the school year — until its spring sports teams were given a last-minute reprieve. Money was found and approved just in time for the Blue Waves to field teams this spring in baseball, boys tennis, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls track and field, girls golf and softball.
“In a weird way, it feels like Christmas,” said Mackenzie Dorr, a senior goalie for the girls lacrosse team.
As far as numbers go, girls lacrosse coach Lindsay Rella put out on Instagram earlier in the day another number: 704. As in the number of days since her team’s last game.
“This is my first year taking over the program, so I’m really excited that we finally got off the ground and got over our budget issues and all that kind of stuff,” she said.
Rella said her players “saw what happened to the 2020 class last year and I’m just so excited that we could have a season for them. Honestly, after school today, it was so nice to hear noise in the locker room.”
For these opening practices, the sun shining in a bright, blue sky seemed to serve as a beacon of hope, of better days to come after 13-plus months of no Riverhead sports. Another step closer to normalcy.
Some thought this day wouldn’t come during the current school year.
“Our budget failed, so obviously we didn’t think we were going to have [a season], so it’s a bit of blessing,” Kaleigh Seal, a senior centerfielder for the softball team, said. She said, “I didn’t think we would get back out here at all.”
Egypt Dozier, a senior track athlete, chuckled when asked if she thought she would be running this spring. “No, I really didn’t,” she said. “I started working more because I’m like, ‘Sports are done.’ We weren’t going to get this chance,’ but I’m really, really happy that we did.”
Riverhead’s new softball coach, Chris Accardi, said: “We didn’t really expect to have a season, so it’s really a gift. It really is.”
Coaches and athletes said the year-plus without sports wasn’t easy.
“It was almost depressing to be going home every day after the eighth period, and you look [outside] and nothing’s going on,” boys track coach Steve Gevinski said. “Then you drive past another school and you see they’re out doing stuff and you’re like, ‘Oh man.’ I think that was the worst part.”
Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks, outfitted in a matching Blue Waves jacket and gaiter, was enjoying one of the more pleasant aspects of his job — something he hadn’t been able to do for a long time. Sacks was making the rounds and delighting in the sights and sounds he had dearly missed.
“I’m more than excited to be out of my office, walking around, seeing kids running around, playing. It’s great,” he said.
The last Riverhead athletes to participate in a competition were track athletes Tyreek Parker and Kristina Deraveniere, who both earned medals in the state indoor championships March 7, 2020, on Staten Island. This year, Riverhead’s track teams will be the first to compete on Monday. The boys team will be home to Commack and the girls team will be at Commack.
Some Blue Waves said they are behind the eight ball since they lost their winter and fall sports seasons.
“No one’s probably been running or doing any serious physical activity so we’re all a little out of shape,” senior track athlete Matthew Yakaboski said. “I’m definitely a little out of shape. I really haven’t been running that much. Among my friends, I know we were all eager to get out and run.”
As unpleasant as the pandemic experience has been, Dorr said she has learned something from it.
“Never take anything for granted,” she said. “I always took for granted like being at school with friends, practicing. You miss it all.”