The Massapequa School District wanted fall sports to get going. So the district sued Section VIII, which controls high school athletics in Nassau County.
But the district, which specifically argued it and others in the region can bring sports back in a safe way, did not make its case strong enough. Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Jack Libert dismissed Massapequa’s case, saying Section VIII is following the law set by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo said in late August that some sports can return in the fall, but the Section VIII superintendents voted against bringing fall sports back with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They said we weren’t following our constitution and they pulled the trigger a little too fast, I believe,” Section VIII Executive Director Patrick Pizzarelli said in an interview. “It was their board of education that did it. It wasn’t their athletic director or superintendent.”
Pizzarelli has received plenty of emails from disgruntled people in the county who are upset about the decision to postpone fall sports. However, he does not vote on such a decision.
Massapequa filed the suit in early September with the hopes of bringing fall sports back sooner rather than later.
Pizzarelli said superintendents from Nassau County districts said they were nervous in August about not only the start of the school year, but also how to bring sports back safely without risking the lives of students, coaches, referees and their families.
“The governor said the 21st of September could be the first day of sports,” Pizzarelli said. “We considered the situation and in gathering that information, we followed our constitution and the athletic council decided not to play sports, not the superintendents. The superintendents recommended it and the athletic council voted, 12-1, to not play fall sports at this time.”
The fall athletic season is not canceled, though. Section VIII postponed the season, meaning it will coincide with the winter and spring seasons throughout Nassau County. There will also be some coordination in doing so with Suffolk County districts.
Massapequa is not the only district to fight the decision to postpone fall sports. Island Trees did the same, but did not take Section VIII to court. Instead, they petitioned the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSA) to overturn the decision. But the Levittown-based district did not follow the correct procedure and was actually supposed to submit an appeal to the athletic council first before going to the NYSPHSA.
“We’re going to have three seasons starting in January,” Pizzarelli said. “Kids can play their three sports and coaches can coach their three sports. We’re going to get in as many games as we possibly can.”
In early September, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, pushed for fall sports to continue as scheduled.
“Residents have demonstrated extraordinary ability to adapt to this crisis and I’m confident they’re ready to adhere to the safety measures necessary to get our kids back on the playing field in a school setting,” Curran said in a letter to Pizzarelli.
The Long Island Championships will likely take place in 2021. With Suffolk County also not participating in school sports for the fall, it will help organize the Long Island Championships in a proper manner.
On Oct. 13, Section VIII held a high school association meeting to approve its winter schedules, pending any major uptick in the coronavirus that would prevent schools from participating. They are also working on signing officials for the 2021 season. There will be league games and county playoffs, but the seasons for each sport might be shorter than in the past to accommodate for the multiple sports happening at once.
“We’re waiting on the board of health to approve wrestling and basketball because they’re high-risk sports,” Pizzarelli said.
Whether or not a coronavirus vaccine is approved by the winter for usage across the country, Section VIII believes sports can take place in a safe way. This decision to push back fall sports gives them time to review data from other states that have indeed started high school sports already, as well as break down other COVID-19-related information.
“New Jersey is playing football,” Pizzarelli said. “A lot of the teams have canceled games because of COVID-19. Many teams have had to stop playing because of COVID-19. Every day, schools are closing or sending people home to quarantine. Hopefully, there will be remedies and vaccines. We’re going to do the best we can to follow the board of health and the state regulations.”
Pizzarelli has a clear message for parents, student-athletes and coaches.
“Hang in there,” he said. “We’re doing everything in our power to have sports. Hopefully, schools are doing something with intramurals or preseason workouts.”