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Section XI working toward agreement to return indoor track and field meets to SCCC

Suffolk County’s high school boys and girls winter track teams are without an indoor home, having been left out in the cold by an insurance issue with Suffolk County Community College.

At issue is liability insurance Section XI, Suffolk’s interscholastic sports governing body, needs related to its use of SCCC’s indoor track in Brentwood. The college notified Section XI that because of a $1 million increase in personal injury liability, the insurance certificate was insufficient by $1 million, said Section XI executive director Tom Combs.

But track athletes and coaches have cause to be hopeful. Combs told The Suffolk Times Monday afternoon that Section XI has found a provider for the necessary policy. “We have that in the works right now,” he said in a phone interview from Denver, where he was attending the National Athletic Directors Conference. “We wired them the money this morning and hopefully everything will work out.”

Combs said Section XI was notified by email three days before the start of the season earlier this month that there was an insurance problem. That caused the first weekend of competition to be canceled. The second weekend, this past weekend, teams competed in outdoor dual meets instead of the traditional indoor league meets. That was the way winter track was run this past January and February because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Suffolk County Community College continues to work with Section XI in an effort to resolve their liability insurance issue and is holding open the remaining meet dates for them,” read an email from the college in response to a request for comment. “We look forward to again hosting Section XI’s competitions as soon as the mandated liability insurance requirements are met.”

Drew Biondo, SCCC’s director of communications, noted that although the college is under no obligation to do so, it is “actively trying to assist Section XI in obtaining the necessary coverage because we want to see this problem resolved for the athletes, coaches, and families.”

A total of 4,419 athletes from 51 schools compete in winter track, according to Tony Toro, the Suffolk County boys and girls winter track coordinator. The county’s high schools have been running in Brentwood since the facility opened in 2000.

Toro, asked Monday for an update on the situation, was like many others — still waiting. “I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

Combs said the news about the insurance problem came as a surprise to his office, which thought it had an agreement in place for staging 30 meets at SCCC.

Asked if Section XI bore any fault in this, Combs replied: “We figured we’d be all squared and ready to go in September and then they dropped this on us three days before the first meet, so I don’t know how we could have known this. There’s no backup plan because there’s no other facility. I don’t know how we could have foreseen this occurring or prepared for it, especially when we had the verbal agreement that we’re good to go.”

Spectators line the track during a meet in 2017. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Suffolk’s winter track teams found themselves in a bind because of the scarcity of indoor tracks in the area. Combs said the first call he made was to St. Anthony’s High School, which has an indoor track, but availability there was limited because St. Anthony’s hosts Catholic league and Nassau County meets. The only other indoor options, he said, are The Armory in Manhattan and Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island.

Athletes and coaches were disappointed and voiced their displeasure over the matter.

“I don’t even know who to blame,” Riverhead boys coach Steve Gevinski said. “I guess the upper administration in Section XI would be the ones. You get a notice when your insurance is due. How did you oversee this is my question. And I don’t know all the details there, but how do you miss something like this? It just seems like something was overlooked and how do we find this out two days before the season starts?”

Shoreham-Wading River girls coach Paul Koretzki said, “I have a feeling if it was football it would be solved.”

One of his athletes, junior Madison Zelin, said: “It was very upsetting. I was just frustrated because I just feel like we haven’t had a real meet for winter in two years. Not to have it just because of money problems is really frustrating.”

Southold/Greenport boys coach Joe Corrado said his athletes keep asking him questions he doesn’t have answers to. “No one really knows yet,” he said. “I’ll stay optimistic, but I’m not going to count my chickens before they’re hatched.”

“This has got to get solved,” Koretzki said. “We have a beautiful indoor arena that Suffolk’s losing money [on], we’re losing time on our indoor track and it’s not right. You can’t say anything’s good about this.”

Combs said: “Hopefully everything comes to fruition. Once we get the OK and we’re good to go and we’re at Suffolk, then I’ll be very happy.”

He won’t be the only one.