“I feel awful for my seven seniors who worked so hard to prepare for baseball this year and wanted another shot at the state championship,” Pierson baseball coach Jonathan Schwartz said. “As upset as I am, I know that it’s worse for them.”
The varsity head coach was responding to the news that Section XI had decided April 21 to officially cancel the spring sports season.
Those seven Whalers had made it all the way to the state semifinals in 2019.
“This team was all-in this year, starting in September, until the time we stopped,” Schwartz said. “They deserved to have that chance, but now they won’t, unfortunately.”
Players like senior right-handed pitcher Matt Hall never gave up hope that the season could continue, even days before the decision was made.
“It’s really tough to have it possibly end like this,” Hall said previously. “We are all just hoping that we get the opportunity to play, even if it’s a shortened season.”
He had been going to batting cages and tossing pitches at the field to stay in shape, and before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive stay-at-home order, his team could be seen back in February social-distance practicing.
Hall says although the news hurts, he knows why the governing body of Suffolk County athletics made the decision. He’s also remaining hopeful he won’t miss out on all that was to come his senior year.
“I was upset when I heard the news from Section XI, but I understand that it had to be done,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping that us seniors will be able to go back to school soon and enjoy prom and our last year of high school.”
Not An Easy Decision
Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs and Nassau County’s Section VIII Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli both announced their rulings within hours of each other, coming to the same conclusion.
“It was not an easy one to make,” Combs said. “In what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make. This decision was made in the best interest of the health and safety of all of our student-athletes, staffs, and communities.”
He said it was made final after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s extension of school closures to May 15 and “much discussion and consideration,” especially over the past 24 hours. The ruling was voted on unanimously and affects all 2020 spring sports teams at all levels.
Hampton Bays softball coach Rich Doulos said he was “devastated” receiving the news of the cancellation.
“With all that’s going on around us, playing again represented hope that we could get through this and be together again in a safe place and environment such as the diamond,” he said. “I have three seniors and all of them played for me at the varsity level since they were freshmen. We have a strong bond and it was very difficult to tell them there was no senior year. I know I’m taking this hard, so exacerbate that 10 times as I know how passionate my girls are about softball. As a program, we will pick up the pieces and move forward as best we can just like everyone else.”
Those seniors include Lily Candelaria, who will be playing at New York University next year, Pam Grajales, and Rebecca Heaney.
Looking At Bigger Picture
Some parents and fans took to social media to say the executive directors jumped the gun. Suggestions were made to either host a senior game in the summer, if possible, or consider summer leagues if safe.
Thomas McCandless, of Lindenhurst, said he believes schools will eventually be closed for the remainder of the school year anyway.
“I think they should have waited until May 1,” he said. “This was hope for a lot of kids to get back to a normal routine. They jumped the gun on this. I do believe, though, that we are not going back to school as well, so it’s irrelevant.”
Westhampton Beach girls lacrosse coach Mary Bergmann said she too feels for her athletes, but understands.
“In the bigger picture, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and we know this decision wasn’t made lightly and was made ultimately to keep everyone safe,” the head coach said. “I fully support that. But I think all of us feel for the seniors who had to miss out on their final season, and especially for single-sport spring season athletes or seniors who aren’t playing in college.”
Fortunately, most of her seniors, including six-year starter and midfielder Belle Smith (Boston College), four-year midfielder and attack Toni Cashman (SUNY Cortland), and four-year attack Emma McAuley (LIU Post) are going on to play in college. Four-year senior defender Hanna Tufano is not.
“They are amazing,” Bergmann said of her seniors. “I’ve seen these girls grow up and become young ladies. They were a part of going to a county championship game and helped us make playoffs every single year. We are working tirelessly to figure out ways we can celebrate our teams and our seniors because they deserve it. These seniors are losing a lot of the things they were looking forward to, but maybe we can give them memories that 10 years from now they can look back and smile about; albeit different types of memories.”
Smith said thinking back to putting up posters and organizing dinners for senior days past upsets her.
“I’ve appreciated our graduating seniors with excitement, knowing someday I’d be the one receiving it,” she said. “It’s super unfortunate, however, we can only control the controllable. I’m grateful that I myself have had five years playing lacrosse for Westhampton Beach, which fills me with great gratitude.”
She said it also doesn’t hurt that she will be playing in college, or that her last high school game was actually a gold medal win over Canada as a member of team USA in the World Lacrosse Women’s U19 tournament.
Among its seven seniors, Pierson also bids farewell to Harry Cowen and Nick Egbert, both of whom would have been co-captains with Hall. While none have committed to playing at the next level, Egbert was hoping to try out for his college team. The other seniors include Henry Brooks, Pierce Summers, David Petersen, and Gabe Ramundo.
For Schwartz, and all other coaches, what will also be missed this season, besides the championship chasing and senior celebrations, is the passing down of knowledge, and that extra experience for the underclassmen.
“Another huge loss this season was the chance for our younger guys to learn from the seniors, and for the seniors to pass on that process, work ethic, and overall culture we’ve built the last few years,” the head coach said. “We’ll have to rely on guys like Tucker Schiavoni, who will be a senior next year, to pass that all on.”
Hall said even though the situation is far from ideal, he knows he will never have this much free time on his hands, and is trying to appreciate what he has, and look back at the positives that have come from his high school athletic career.
“This whole experience has taught me to make the most of every situation,” he said. “I am so grateful to have played with my teammates for as long as I have. We had fun on and off the field. We made some great memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.”