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Freeport student athletes back on the field of play

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Freeport athletes were back on the field less than a week after high-risk high school sports were given the OK to proceed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“All our coaches and players were well prepared,” said Jonathan Bloom, the Freeport School District’s athletic director. “I’m excited for our students, and we’re doing our best to make sure they’re safe.”

At a Jan. 27 news conference at Bay Park, in East Rockaway, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced the high-risk sports guidelines that cleared the way for public and parochial schools to begin practicing for basketball, wrestling and cheer on Monday, and holding games and matches as soon as Feb. 8. 

“I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and the rinks they love so much and to bring a little normal back into their lives,” Curran said.

“Luckily, we’ve already been following these guidelines since we began our pre-season workout program in the fall,” Dr. Kishore Kuncham, Freeport’s schools superintendent, said at a Jan. 27 Board of Education meeting. 

The guidelines includes wearing masks at all times, unless players are unable to tolerate such a covering for the physical activity, and social distancing, with the exception of participating athletes. 

The sports facilities must also provide sanitizers for all in attendance and be limited to 50 percent of the maximum occupancy of a particular area, including employees, patrons, players and spectators.

Bloom added that all athletes, coaches and other staff involved with the teams must be tested for Covid-19 regularly, about once a week, from the beginning of the season to the end.

“We had our first testing done on Saturday, and our athletes were out on the field” by Tuesday, Bloom said. “This is uncharted territory for us, but we’re off to a great start.” 

The school district received additional guidance on Covid-19 from the Suffolk County Department of Health.  

The high-risk sports, basketball, wrestling and cheer, will run until Feb. 27. The fall and spring sports will be held in condensed seasons and end in June.    

While the county has allowed for no more than two spectators per athlete for home teams during games, the Freeport district has opted not to allow live spectators during matches out of an abundance of caution.  

As of the end of January, the village had seen about 4,500 positive Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic last March, according to the Nassau County Department of Health, and more than 200 students, teachers and staff members in the school district had tested positive, according to the state Health Department. 

Bloom said that while there would be no live spectating, people could still live-stream games on YouTube on the Freeport Red Devils TV channel.  

Curran said that the county Health Department would conduct spot compliance checks at random schools to ensure that safety guidelines are being followed.

On Jan. 26, Nassau’s athletic directors held a meeting with Section VIII, the governing body for high school athletics in the county, to discuss a return to play for basketball, wrestling and cheer. Section VIII also conducted a conference call with school superintendents that same morning.

Section VIII Executive Director Pat Pizzarelli said with athlete participation being the primary goal this winter, there would be no playoffs for basketball and no postseason for wrestling. Basketball teams will play an eight-game season, while wrestling will conduct dual meets only.

“We want the largest number of kids playing in the most number of games, and this was the way to do it,” Pizzarelli said.

“I’m thrilled that we’re going to be starting all of our sports,” he said. “We haven’t had any Covid spread with the sports that began January 4. Now we’re starting basketball and wrestling. I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about wrestling. I spoke to our athletic administrators. They need to stress to their coaches they need to be diligent in keeping the safety of our student athletes as the No. 1 priority, which is what we always do in athletics.”

Pizzarelli said that each school district would make a determination whether to compete in the high-risk winter sports. Only Uniondale, which is in full remote learning mode, has opted out so far. Lawrence flipped its decision on winter sports, and will be competing.

Traditional fall sports, including football, soccer, girls’ tennis, cross-country, volleyball, field hockey and girls’ swimming and diving, are slated to begin practice March 1. Spring sports, such as lacrosse, baseball, softball, boys’ tennis, track and field, girls’ badminton and boys’ golf, are set to start April 22.