For Westhampton Beach senior Layla Mendoza, the news was like a second knife to the heart.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced Monday the official cancellation of the remaining winter state championship events. These include boys and girls basketball regional and state championships, and ice hockey and bowling championships. Mendoza’s Hurricanes (22-3) were scheduled to compete in the Class A regional final against Locust Valley.
“It definitely felt like a tease,” Mendoza said of the March 23 announcement that came almost two weeks after an indefinite postponement of the events due to the concerns over the spread of COVID-19. “It still feels like we just took a break. It’s still unfinished business.”
It’s harder on Mendoza she tore her ACL and missed the second half of last season. She was devastated by the realization will not able to complete her high school career the way she’d hoped.
“It’s really hard, especially because I’ve never gotten this close before . . . in my whole school career,” she said. “I think we should’ve at least been able to play just with no spectators, or even pushed the games up more if they knew this virus was going to spread this fast.”
Some saw it the same way Mendoza did.
“It never should have come to this,” said Ann Marie Kurdzos in a Twitter response to the news. “You should have let them finish two weeks ago instead of canceling it less than 24 hours before it started. Others let theirs finish, honored their athletes. I have a senior, and now he will never get that chance. Who cares if you rescheduled in July? It’s a sad day for New York.”
“My heart is broken,” one student-athlete said. “This was my one chance to be in it as a senior and now it’s gone.”
Other applauded the state for its early shutdown and protection from the novel coronavirus.
“Disappointing for many, I am sure,” one commenter said. “But the responsible decision to protect many, absolutely. Thank you, NYSPHSAA, for doing what is right, even when it is hard.”
“You did the right thing for the masses,” said another.
Plans are in development to honor and formally recognize the students and teams who qualified to participate in these championship events.
“It is with great disappointment that we make the decision to cancel,” said NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas. “Our association’s focus is to benefit students through participation in interscholastic athletics, and unfortunately this rapidly-developing situation has prevented our association from providing a quality championship experience. We certainly sympathize for the students who are being impacted by this crisis, but at this time they deserve honesty from the leadership of our association.”
Factors affecting this decision included the evolving public threat of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mass gathering recommendations, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s declaration of a state emergency, President Donald Trump’s national emergency announcement, input from the 11 sections, and extended school closures.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions the officers of the NYSPHSAA have ever had to make,” said NYSPHSAA president Paul Harrica. “It has been determined it is not feasible for the winter state championships to be hosted in a safe and beneficial manner for the participating student-athletes and their teams in the near future. The health and safety of the students we serve will always be our top priority.”
With school districts closed for an extended period, sections and schools are individually determining the spring sport start dates and practice parameters that best meet the needs of the students they represent. The status of the NYSPHSAA spring state championships will be determined on or prior to April 27.
Mendoza, who is committed to Farmingdale State College, said she’s learned a lot from her experiences over the years.
“Always have a good connection with your teammates, listen carefully and pay attention, and just have fun, because that’s when you’re at your best,” Mendoza said. “Yes, my high school chapter is over, but I’m going to start an even bigger chapter in college, and I’m excited about it.”