Sports

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By Steven Zaitz

Richard “Bull” Smith, who founded Smithtown over 350 years ago, never played quarterback. Nor could he run the pick and roll in basketball, turn a 6-4-3 double play in baseball or swim the 100-meter breaststroke.

However, his statue was smack in the middle of about 100 student-athletes, coaches and parents Friday, Sept. 18, as they gathered to protest the Section XI decision to suspend all high school sports due to the coronavirus until at least January 2021. They met right on the front lawn of Section XI headquarters on Main Street and Route 111 in Smithtown.

Groups representing Kings Park, East Islip, Northport, Commack, Ward Melville and Connetquot joined Smithtown residents, who began their protest at the school district’s administration earlier on New York Avenue, and held up signs imploring the decision makers to rethink this delay. Many of these devoted and impassioned protesters were at the same location, doing the same thing Tuesday, Sept. 15.

One of these protesters was Ray Zuppa, an attorney from Smithtown, who feels that high school athletic facilities are far less dangerous than other places that kids might go. He is also a strong believer that not having the chance to play sports is devastating to the youngsters’ development.

“I believe Section XI has let the kids down,” Zuppa said later during a phone interview. “I realize it is a serious virus, but the science supports that it’s difficult to catch outside and when wearing a mask.”

Zuppa’s son, Isaiah Zuppa, is the starting quarterback of the Smithtown West Bulls and was one of the highest-rated passers in Suffolk County in 2019. He was also in attendance at the protest.

“Isaiah is a shell of himself,” the father said. “It’s not just about the games, but all these kids are missing the camaraderie, the discipline, team dinners and the bonding — and you know what, the parents are missing it too. Sports is essential to a lot of families.”

Zuppa coached his son for many years in the Suffolk County Police Athletic League, and when the father was asked if he took solace in the plans to have football season in March, he was skeptical. 

“I think this March thing is just a way to kick the can down the road,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s really going to happen, and this is just a way for them to bide their time.”

The masked protesters were rewarded by the encouragement of honking car horns, and they created a party-like atmosphere as they tossed footballs, sang team fight songs and ran through tumbling routines at the foot of Smith’s statue. However, Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, and the main target of the protesters’ ire, did not address the crowd or make an appearance from his nearby office.

“While this was a difficult decision, we feel it was the best move for the health and safety of everyone involved,” Combs said in a Sept. 11 statement on the Section XI website. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead in planning and executing on the three seasons across six months in 2021, but we look forward to the challenge and collaboration with our member schools and providing an impactful experience for our student-athletes and coaches.”

Despite Combs’ nonappearance, Zuppa still thinks these public showings are beneficial.

“They know we’re out here,” he said. “They know how we feel.”

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If anything, high school athletes know how to lead a chant. Though instead of doing it on the field to rally their team, this time their barking voices were used to call them back to the field.

Around 60 Comsewogue athletes and their parents stood at the corner of routes 112 and 347 Sept. 18 rallying for support in demanding that Section XI, which runs Suffolk County’s scholastic sports, allows sports to start their seasons in September. 

Cole Blatter, a junior on Comsewogue’s football and wrestling teams, said despite Section XI’s promise that the new seasons for sports could start in January, there’s really no way to be sure, especially because they felt the rug was pulled out from under them already.

Sports “really adds structure to my day — I go to school and then I go to football,” he said.

For his teammates, many of them seniors, the Comsewogue athlete said he could not even well describe how upset they are.

“It’s their last season — some are never going to play football again, some of them are never going to wrestle again, some will never play lacrosse again,” Blatter said. “All of that stuff that made them happy, it’s just been taken away from them.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gave localities the option to play certain sports deemed low risk Aug. 24, specifically excluding sports like football and volleyball because of their use of shared equipment. Though Section XI originally said it would host fall seasons for all other sports, the entity and its athletic council reversed course Sept. 11 and said it would push all sports into truncated seasons starting Jan. 4. 

The Comsewogue group was part of a large protest earlier that same day outside the Section XI building in Smithtown, demanding their voices and concerns be heard.

Parents of athletes who came to the corner of Route 112 were just as upset about the situation as their children. 

“It’s their senior year, they already lost their junior season, so to have everything be combined next spring, and we still don’t know what the [infection rate] in January is going to be — we don’t know if this promise of January is even going to happen,” Danielle Deacy said. “You’re taking so much away from these kids … scholarships, recruitment. This is such a critical time for a lot of these kids that they’ve been playing since they were 5 years old.”

Deacy, the mother of Jake, a senior at Comsewogue High School, said with the numbers being what they are, and how COVID-19 does not impact young people as much as it does older groups, “the percentage of risk compared to what they’re losing is not worth it.”

When Section XI made its decision, it said in a statement to its website Sept. 11 that it was based on the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19, reduced spectators, a lack of locker room and facility use, increased costs related to security and transportation, and the general well-being of athletes, parents, coaches and other staff.

Still, at least one member of the Comsewogue board of education wrote a letter in favor of those protesting, namely board president John Swenning. He said in a letter read out to the assembled parents and athletes that the district has had conversations with Section XI, adding that if schools remain mostly COVID-free, then athletes should be able to play before the expected Jan. 4 start date.

“Section XI acknowledged we should continue to have an open discussion with our superintendents and athletic directors to monitor the status of the health and well-being of our students,” Swenning wrote in his letter.

But for the students, who have already missed what was planned to be the original sport start date Sept. 21, every day that goes by is another loss.

“We want to play, we want the chance to have our seasons here,” Jake Deacy said. “Our spring seasons were cut short, we can’t let that happen again.” 

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

North Shore students say they want to play.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than a hundred young athletes and their parents rallied in front of 180 E. Main St. in Smithtown Sept. 15. The building houses the offices of Section XI, which manages Suffolk County high school sports.

Last week the athletic council voted to postpone the fall sports season and condense all three seasons to run from January through June next year. The Nassau County Council of School Superintendents had already decided to postpone sports, both councils citing the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19 as well as the costs associated with meeting coronavirus restrictions at games. The decision is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) August announcement stating schools could allow certain sports to practice and compete starting in September, such as cross country, track and soccer, which have been deemed low to medium risk. Sports that were originally excluded from a fall start included football and volleyball.

The Sept. 15 rally was organized by field hockey players Carolena Purpura, a 12th-grader at Harborfields High School, and Jenna Halpin, a high school senior from Locust Valley High School. Halpin started the Let Them Play social media campaign. The two spoke at the event along with state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).

Halpin said students were excited after Cuomo’s August announcement.

“We texted our teammates, we dusted off our gear and got ready to play, something we were waiting five months to do,” Halpin said.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Purpura said she wonders why surrounding states have figured out how school sports can continue during the pandemic but not Long Island. She added how playing sports is good for mental health, serving as an outlet for pent-up energy or emotions. She said many times during a bad day at school she has imagined being on the field, and it’s a way for many to express themselves like others may do with music and art.

“There’s more to sports than competition, championships and making friends,” she said. “It goes way deeper than that and serves a greater purpose.”

Fitzpatrick said Cuomo and other state officials have stated it’s important to follow the science.

“The science has shown that we can do sports and other activities safely,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that practices such as social distancing, wearing masks and other safety protocols can be incorporated so students can play sports like they are doing in other states.

Fitzpatrick, a former student basketball player, encouraged the attendees to contact their elected officials on the state, county and town levels to put pressure on Section XI to let them play.

Athletes from several school districts including Miller Place, Comsewogue, Three Village, Smithtown, Hauppauge, Central Islip and more were on hand.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Hauppauge’s Jamie Devine, a 12th-grader who plays soccer and basketball, said if other states are able to practice sports and local students can attend classes in person, she doesn’t understand why Long Islanders can’t participate in sports, especially soccer which is played outside. The high school senior said she played in basketball tournaments in Pennsylvania this summer where everyone wore masks to the games, and everyone was fine.

“Not being able to play is really upsetting to me, because I’ve worked hard since I was little and to never get to play again upsets me,” she said.

Ward Melville cross country team members Katelyn Giordano, Alexis Bell and Julia Bell said they were training all summer. Finding out they couldn’t compete this fall, they said, was disappointing, especially when last season was cut short and they weren’t able to go to winter nationals or compete in the spring.

Miller Place High School senior Jonathan Flannery, who plays football, wrestling and lacrosse, said he feels robbed.

“Everyone has been dreaming of their senior year of football since we were [little], and it just feels so abrupt, and it’s just not right,” he said. “I’ll come back in the middle of the summer just to play a season. I don’t care. I didn’t play my last game yet.”

Shoreham-Wading River senior mid-fielder Elizabeth Shields out maneuvers a defender at home against John Glenn. The SWR Wildcats would win their first title crown last year, but won't have another chance to play until January, 2021. File photo by Bill Landon

In a reversal from a decision made just a few weeks ago, Section XI, which manages Suffolk County high school sports, announced it would be delaying the start of all sports until Jan. 4, 2021. 

The decision, made after a Section XI athletic council vote this week, postpones the fall season and condenses all three seasons to run from January through June. In a post announcing the decision, Section XI said it will run three complete seasons for the varsity, junior varsity and modified levels. Each season will culminate in a championship event.

“While this was a difficult decision, we feel it was the best move for the health and safety of everyone involved,” said Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs in a statement to its website. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead in planning and executing on the three seasons across six months in 2021, but we look forward to the challenge and collaboration with our member schools and providing an impactful experience for our student-athletes and coaches.”

The decision was made based on what Section XI’s Athletic Council, County Athletic Directors, Safety Committee and Suffolk County Executive Board said was “the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff members, a reduced number of spectators, a lack of locker room and facility use, increased costs in transportation and security for school districts and equity among all school districts.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he was allowing schools to certain sports deemed low to medium risk to start in September. Sports that were originally excluded from a fall start included football and volleyball, though cross country, track, or soccer would have been given the green light. Section XI originally said it would start with those lower-risk sports Sept. 21.

Nassau County school officials and Section VIII, which handles Nassau high school sports, have already made the decision this week to postpone all sports until the start of 2021. Some Nassau sports players have reportedly already protested having their seasons postponed. One school district, Massapequa, has already announced it is suing Section VIII to get sports back for Fall.

The seasons will run as follows:

Varsity and JV

  • Season 1 (Winter), Jan. 4 – Feb. 27
  • Season 2 (Fall), March 1 – May 1
  • Season 3 (Spring), April 26- June 19

Modified sports

  • Season 1 (Winter), Jan. 4 – Feb. 6
  • Season 2 (Late Winter), Feb. 8 – March 20
  • Season 3 (Fall), March 22 – May 8
  • Season 4 (Spring), May 10 – June 12

 

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Nissequogue Golf Club, 21 Golf Club Road, St. James hosts the New York Cancer Foundation’s 2nd annual Raising Hope Golf Classic on Thursday, Sept. 24. Founded in 2016 by Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, the Foundation’s mission is to help relieve the financial stresses experienced by cancer patients undergoing treatment including expenses such as rent, mortgage and utilities. The Foundation also provides transportation to and from treatments through a partnership with UberHealth. Registration and breakfast will be held at 10:30 a.m. with a noon shot gun start followed by cocktails and dinner. To RSVP, email [email protected]

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Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm will be going virtual this year. Funds support the farm in its community endeavors. File photo from Councilman Kevin LaValle's office

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm is taking its annual fundraiser virtual Saturday, Sept. 5 through Sunday, Sept. 13.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) announced he will co-sponsor the sixth annual Run the Farm Four Mile Challenge with Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) and Friends of Hobbs Farm. Participants are invited to lace up their sneakers and traverse the four-mile course that includes a fast start on roughly two miles of flat terrain leading to a mile of rolling hills and two mildly challenging ascents before concluding at the historic grounds of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach. The first 300 participants will receive a 4M Run the Farm buff and be entered in a special raffle. To register, people can visit BrookhavenNY.Gov/RunTheFarm. 

People can run or walk whenever they like. After running, they can go to www.elitefeats.com/Results and click on the Bethel Hobbs event to enter their name and time. They can also optionally upload up to five photos.

Proceeds will go toward repairing the Hobbs Community Farm barn that is critical to the farm’s functions, whose mission is devoted to providing fresh, wholesome produce to local food pantries and other programs in the community. Even if one doesn’t run, they can make a donation for any amount and be entered in the raffle to win a special prize. This year’s event is sponsored by ShopRite of Selden, owned and operated by the Gallagher family and Middle Country Automotive (MCA) of Selden and MCA II of Centereach.

“Hobbs Community Farm plays such an important role in the community and they rely on this annual event to continue their good work,” LaValle said. “I am proud to once again join Legislator Muratore to help make this year’s virtual ‘Run the Farm Four Mile Challenge’ a success and I thank the runners and our sponsors for their support.”

People can call LaValle’s office at 631-451-6647, email at [email protected] and visit BrookhavenNY.Gov/RunTheFarm for more information.

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Makes It Through Challenging Season

By Steven Zaitz

Apparently, there is crying in baseball. 

Just ask Richard Tomitz, who is the head coach of Philly Pretzel Factory in the St. James-Smithtown Little League. When his son Derek threw the final strike in the minors’ championship game Aug. 30 at Gaynor Park in St. James, Tomitz was overcome with emotion.

“I have to admit, when the umpire yelled ‘strike three’ and the game was over, it brought a tear to my eye,” Tomitz said. “When I really think about it, this baseball season has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life.”

Quite an extraordinary statement, but only if looked at in a vacuum.  Considering Tomitz, who also serves as president of the league, his feelings of exaltation come not just from his team’s championship, but also from the fact there was a season at all. With the coronavirus sucking so much joy out of everyday life across Long Island and throughout the world, it is not lost upon Tomitz and his fellow league board members that playing baseball in 2020 helped restore at least a modicum of that joy.

“For everyone involved — players, coaches, parents — it was a good distraction and it gave everyone a chance to get out into the fresh air and compete,” said Steve Friscia, who is the league’s coaches coordinator, ran much of the league’s logistics and in 2019 was a win or two away from bringing our own SJSLL team of 12 year olds to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where they would have competed in the Little League World Series.

He and his colleagues on the board were extremely careful when they were given the green light to play in July and strictly enforced a long list of pandemic-related protocols throughout the year.

“The community was great,” Friscia said. “Everyone distanced and wore masks, and the parents who came down were spread apart. We switched out balls and were very careful with water bottles. It really took a village to make sure everyone stuck to the rules and it allowed us to have a successful season.”

Another coach and league board member, Steve Zummo, who coached in both the major (ages 11 and 12) and minor league (ages 9 and 10) championship games on this perfect Sunday for baseball, also recognized what playing baseball meant to the kids of this town.

“This day is incredibly uplifting and incredibly important,” Zummo said. “On a beautiful day like this to be able to culminate the season with everything we all have been through, this baseball season has been nothing short of 100% success. I’m not saying it wasn’t without challenges, but definitely challenges that were worth taking on.”

For the record, Zummo’s 11- and 12-year-old youngsters on the Schubert’s Auto Body squad lost 13-8, despite taking an 8-0 lead. Luke Mercardante of Universal Testing & Inspection stroked a home run to lead the comeback charge and pitched the final three innings without allowing a run.

“We’ve been making comebacks all year,” said the young Mercardante, as he was mobbed by his teammates. “We never lost hope.”

It cannot be confirmed, as the records do not go back to 1957 — the league’s first year — but it is believed to be the largest comeback in SJSLL championship game history. In the minor league championship, Philly Pretzel Factory beat Long Island Hearing, 8-1, ending an unforgettable Little League baseball season in a year, for the most part, we’d all like to forget.

Mount Sinai senior running-back Matthew LoMonaco drags a Babylon defender out of the back field in the semi-final playoff round at home Nov. 15, 2019. Photo by Bill Landon

Players in Suffolk schools will be hitting the courts and fields come the start of the September sports season … well, some will be.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Aug. 24 that certain sports are allowed to start up Sept. 21, though all leagues must stay in their home region until Oct. 19. 

Sports have been divided into what are considered low or high risk. Low risk sports include soccer, tennis, cross county, track, field hockey and swimming. High risk sports would be football, wrestling, rugby, hockey and volleyball. How the distinction between the two was made was up to the New York State Department of Health.

All those sports deemed high risk will be allowed to practice starting Sept. 21 but not to play against other teams until after Dec. 31. 

There are still lingering questions about how some sports were determined to be high risk while others remain medium or low. The Department of Health guidance about sports details that a low risk sport is mostly individual activities like running, swimming or golf, or any sport that maintains little cross contamination of equipment. Medium risk sports have more but still manageable interaction between shared equipment (or the ability to clean between use) but with limited ability to maintain distance, which includes sports like baseball, soccer or even flag football. Games that need to have shared contact with equipment like volleyball or games that mandate close confines like wrestling are off the table, at least for the rest of this year.

Not every region will be participating in the fall. Nassau County school officials and Section VIII, which handles Nassau high school sports, have already made the decision this week to postpone all sports until the start of 2021. Meanwhile members of the Section XI board, which governs Suffolk sports, voted to host its sports season as described by the governor’s parameters.

What the exact guidelines for practices and games is still to be determined. Section XI wrote in a release Aug. 26 that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has already met twice based on Cuomo’s Aug. 24 announcement. The association said it will come up with guidance for school districts to help them get started on their sports seasons.

“Over 200,000 students participate in the fall high school sports seasons and yesterday’s announcement was certainly a positive step for all those athletes,” said NYSPHSAA’s Executive Director Robert Zayas.

There will be several known restrictions for the start of the fall sports season. Indoor facilities can be at no more than 50% occupancy and districts must limit spectators to no more than two spectators per player. This is in addition to the normal masks and social distancing guidelines.

Coaches whose students will be left out of the chance for a fall sports season said it’s a hard pill to swallow. More so because of the vagaries still left for how the sports year will progress after December.

“I am in contact with the kids and I think all they want is a plan — something concrete — whether we play in the fall, or a condensed schedule starting in February,” said Mount Sinai High School Football Coach Vinnie Ammirato. “It would just be nice to get some clarity and a plan.”

Still, he understands why the decision was made.

“Everyone wants to play — with that said we need to keep the health and safety of all the players and coaches at the forefront.”

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The Port Jefferson Country Club, 44 Fairway Drive, Port Jefferson will host the Port Jefferson Lions Knights of the Blind’s 25th annual Golf Classic for Charity on Thursday, Oct. 15. The event includes lunch/brunch, on course refreshments, a cocktail reception/dinner and an awards ceremony. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to local charities including Hope House, Angela’s House, local soup kitchens, Friends of Karen, Maryhaven Center of Hope, Veterans of Foreign Wars and more. To register, visit https://birdeasepro.com/portjeffersonlions. For further information, email [email protected]

Police said a number of young people on bikes physically and verbally harassed members of a Port Jefferson Station gym last Thursday. Photo from Crossfit DHP

Crossfit DHP in Port Jefferson Station was the site of a tense confrontation between the owners of a local gym and a crowd of children and teens on bikes. Though police said nobody was hurt, owners said this could be a learning experience that parents make sure kids show respect.

Suffolk County Police said around 20 young people on bikes were roving around the Port Jeff Station area July 23, and that officers responded to two disturbances outside the gym at 5:30 and then around 6:15 p.m. Police said once they arrived, the groups dispersed with no injuries on either side.

Police said the young people then traveled to Wendy’s on Nesconset Highway and allegedly threw drinks and cursed at patrons. 

Two tickets were issued to two of the juvenile’s parents.

In a statement, gym owners said a group of young men and women on their bikes were seen smoking weed behind the building when they started harassing gym members who were going on their run.

We asked them to be aware of our presence but then they started hitting our members with their bikes,” the statement reads. “At that point we asked them to leave and that we would call the cops to which they said they were proud that the cops were chasing them around all day. With a lot of vulgar language and verbal harassment, they did start to leave as the cops escorted them out.”

On the way out, gym owners said one kid tried to throw a barbell at one of the gym members. The bikers left after police were initially called, but about 10 minutes later came back to harass the gym again. That is when the video was recorded, and owners said the bikers took pipes from their bikes and swung them at member’s heads. 

“To go even further, several of them spit on us, which during a pandemic is unquestionably wrong,” the statement read.

On July 31, police announced they have made two arrests, namely two males, both 15 years old, of Centereach, whom police said were involved in the incident.

One of the teens was charged with 2nd degree reckless endangerment for throwing a barbell at a gym member, and the other was charged with second degree menacing for swinging a bicycle seat at another gym member.

The teens were issued desk appearance tickets and scheduled for arraignment at Suffolk County Family Court in Central Islip Aug. 14.

A viral video posted to the Comsewogue Community Facebook page has since been taken down, but in that video the crowd of young people, most not wearing masks, surrounded the front of the gym’s parking lot where owners and a few gym members confronted them. 

One unidentified young person in the video in a light blue shirt became physical with one unidentified person from the gym, seemingly throwing a punch that doesn’t connect. Young people could be heard swearing and threatening the adults. Another man stepped forward holding a rod of some kind, but in the video he does not appear to use it on the bikers. 

At one point in the video, somebody tried to grab something from a woman at the gym, and a brief struggle ensued but was quickly broken up. 

Owner of the gym Ryder Champouillon and his wife and fellow gym coach Jen posted a video to their gym Facebook page the day after the original video was released, thanking community members for their well wishes.

In the statement, the gym owners thanked Suffolk County Police along with Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) for their genuine response to the incident. 

In the gym’s statement, they said this is not the first episode of harassment in the local community, and many more have posted about such incidents to community Facebook pages. Though thanks to the community, owners said they have already been able to identify many of the people in that video.

Our sole purpose within our facility is to offer the community a single outlet to find healthcare, nutrition and exercise that improves our lives, which improves our community as a whole,” the statement read. “We spoke earlier with members of the local government about moving forward with programs for the community and youth to have an outlet surrounded by positive role models.”

Owners asked anybody who could identify the bikers to send a confidential email to [email protected]

This post has been updated July 31 with information on two arrests.