North Shore students say they want to play.
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.
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.
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.”