Videographer: Independent/Christine Heeren
High school athletic field scoreboards across Long Island lit up in honor of the season that could have been, a season lost.
These Friday night lights in the wake of the spring sports season cancelation were somber, but comforting.
“It was heartwarming,” said Pierson High School senior Sam Cox. “It was really nice to be able to see these people again after so long, even if it was brief. The support from the Sag Harbor community never fails, and that’s what makes this place so special to a lot of us.”
Cox was one of many seniors set to compete this last season before graduation. Although her focus is on volleyball, she was looking forward to representing her district on the softball diamond alongside classmates she’s played with for years.
“We’ve grown up playing together since tee-ball,” Cox said. “It’s hard to see the athletes in my grade get this taken away, and I really feel for those who were playing their main sport this season.”
The May 1 “Turn on the Lights” initiative took place at 8:20 PM, 20:20 military time, and scoreboards displayed all 20s graduates for 20 minutes as a tribute to student-athletes. Seniors lined up in cars and paraded down streets while school administrators, coaches, teammates, and fans cheered them on.
Cox said being a Whaler has been special.
“We’re all a big family at Pierson, especially my class,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else with anyone else. I’ve learned through this to enjoy every minute with your peers while it lasts. It still hasn’t hit me yet that things are really over, but there is some comfort in knowing that we’re all going through this together.”
Southampton Athletic Director Darren Phillips said his seniors spent years positively representing the Mariners.
“This recognition is simply to say thank you to our senior athletes for years of great memories,” Phillips said. “I’m disappointed for them, but I think this brings some sort of closure.”
Westhampton Beach Athletic Director Kathleen Masterson said she was just happy to do something for those who have meant so much to her and the district.
“What these seniors have done for this program is something that’s going to live in Westhampton Beach history forever,” she said. “We’ve had some major, major accomplishments, a once-in-a-lifetime athlete in Belle Smith, and not being able to celebrate them the way everyone else has been able to be celebrated is heartbreaking, but what’s happening in the world is bigger than us. Being at the epicenter of this whole pandemic has been trying both physically and emotionally.”
“Our seniors mean the world to me,” Masterson continued. “This is my favorite time of year because it’s a time we get to celebrate them, and we will continue to celebrate them.”
Smith, who was slated to compete on the girls lacrosse team her sixth and final season, agreed the cancelation has to happen.
“I feel my life is hectic right now. Every single person is feeling the same about something else in their own lives, which causes me to be less upset and just more grateful that everyone in my life is happy and healthy,” she said. “We can only control the controllables, so I’m doing everything I can do just enjoy the little things right now and look on the bright side.”
Bridgehampton Athletic Director Michael DeRosa, like several others, organized a parade for his district in conjunction with the fire department.
“My reaction was more of an action to get our coaches on board and connect with our students as we move forward adjusting and readjusting to our new normal,” he said. “This parade event is a gesture to celebrate our sense of unity, to honor their hard work and commitment, and reinforce the message that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. We know that our Bridgehampton students have that resiliency. As Bridgehampton is such a tight-knit school community, our senior athletes will have new and different opportunities after we get over this setback.”
Senior Olivia Cassone, who played volleyball alongside Cox for the Pierson-Bridgehampton team, said the acknowledgment quickly grew bigger than sports following New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement earlier that morning that school doors will remain closed and distance learning in effect for the remainder of the academic year.
“I couldn’t believe that I was never going to be back in high school with my classmates again,” she said. “We wait all these years to be a senior, work up to this — to walk through those halls or play on that court or on that field just one last time and be recognized not only for being a great player but for being a senior, because you accomplished so much all those years in school. But it was just taken away in the blink of an eye. It’s sad to know that we didn’t get to finish our seasons or our school year.”
She was moved seeing the fire trucks and lineup of cars circling the front of the school to honor her class.
“It was amazing,” Cassone said. “Being isolated for almost the past two months made me appreciate seeing the people in the community cheering us on even more. I could feel their energy — it was uplifting and encouraging. Seeing friends, teachers, coaches, and just the people that live in the community come out in their pajamas and yell ‘Go 2020 grads’ or ‘Bridges 2020’ made me the happiest I could be.”
She said it wouldn’t have been possible though if it wasn’t for DeRosa.
“All that he does for his students-athletes, how much time he has sacrificed for us . . .” Cassone said. “I just want him to know how much we and I truly appreciate him.”
Bridgehampton will always be her extended family, and that after the Friday gesture, she said that couldn’t be truer.
“We are one big beehive,” Cassone said. “Being a part of Bridgehampton school and athletics has changed my life for the better. This taught me not to take anything for granted, that you have to appreciate what you have. This has also made me realize that you are not in this alone. You work with a team on the court and in life.”