By, John Torsiello

In early March, the whistles blew, the final scoreboard clock buzzer sounded and the area’s high school athletes headed for their respective locker rooms. This was, sadly, the day the games stopped, forced to the sidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The winter sports season was crushingly ended and spring sports cancelled. Leaving the rinks, courts and fields oddly quiet as the snow melted and the grass began to turn green. For some, it was the conclusion of their high school sports careers, which ended much too soon.


Webutuck High School senior Maddie Lazarus’s spring sport was girls varsity softball. She was looking forward to playing second base as a team captain. There were only two practices before school was suspended, so there was really no time for the team to talk. Without a spring sport, Lazarus plans to either go to college in the fall or take a gap year, depending upon the state of the college campuses in September. She has been working out at home and runs on the local “rail trail” several times a week. “Exercise has been a good way to keep up a routine and feel better,” she says. Maddie’s mom, Kristen, took the news that sports was cancelled almost as hard as her daughter did. “As a parent it was difficult waiting for the final decision to be made. We kept up the hope that eventually the school would send the email telling us that students could return. When we found out that New York State called off the remainder of the school year, it was a sad day. Although the loss of the softball team was difficult to handle, it was just one piece of the larger picture.”

Kristen Lazarus hopes this year’s senior class at Webutuck will stay connected, and that the abrupt cancellation of their senior year does not affect the friendships they have made through team sports. “It is hard to know how the loss of her senior year will affect Maddie in the future. Right now we are focused on staying healthy and being grateful on a daily basis.”Keaten Terrall, a junior at Housatonic Regional High School, plays soccer for the Falls Village school and is a member of its ski team. Terrall was really looking forward to playing his first love, baseball, this spring. “Although we had not started the season yet, I was expecting to start my second year on the varsity roster. Last year I played first base but this year, I was looking to transition to somewhere on the left side of the infield (shortstop or third base), while also pitching a little bit. When we got word that school would be suspended for two weeks, it was the Thursday before pitchers and catchers were supposed to start. Most of my teammates were disappointed because they had been working out and preparing for the upcoming year.”

Armed with a degree of youthful optimism, Terrall and his teammates thought that the season would simply be delayed. “We didn’t fully process the gravity of the situation. As the shutdown progressed we became fully aware of what was going on and how small the likelihood of having a season was. When the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) cancelled the season for good, the writing on the wall had been there for about a month.” He remains hopeful, along with his teammates, that “some type” of summer baseball season can be played. “In the beginning of the lockdown, some teammates had gotten together to take batting practice and grounders but many parents have become less willing to let their kids go out and play. Now it has become mainly just going down to the field with my dad and possibly one other friend to get some swings in. It is definitely difficult to work towards something that might not even happen. As far as soccer goes, most of my teammates are confident that there will be a season in the fall. But I guess only time will tell.”

Micah Matsudaira plays soccer, tennis, and skis for Housatonic Regional and is the school’s number one singles tennis player. It was shaping up to be a big spring on the courts for him and his team…or so he thought. “When my teammates and I heard about sports being suspended we were disheartened. I was very sad due to the fact I felt this year I was going to do very well because I have been working on my tennis all year long. I play spring club soccer as well and that was an even bigger disappointment for me. Soccer is my biggest sport and with my junior year spring season gone, the chances of getting scouted are very low which makes me nervous about my future when it comes to college athletics.” Matsudaira says a close group of teammates on the Housy soccer team have been talking about what’s going to happen this fall and they remain, “very optimistic because we feel that everything hopefully will calm down. A group of my friends have been playing soccer at least once a week. Most of us work out all year round and now more than ever I have found plenty of time to get in great workouts.”

Van Edmundson plays soccer, basketball and competes in the pentathlon in track and field. He and his buddies took the shutdown pretty hard. “We had already been practicing even before the track season started, and were looking forward to competing in the future. At first, we heard that all track meets and baseball games had been pushed off until May. While this was disappointing news, we were happy that we could still compete in Sectionals and Mid-Hudson Athletic League at least. We kept working on events every day, even though the hopes of a season were looking grim. Also, one of my buddies had already purchased some track gear that he will most likely never use again.” Personally, Edmundson says the shutdown was “heartbreaking.” “I had many goals this track season and was working hard to get where I wanted to be. I had attended numerous track clinics in November and December and felt that I was a totally different athlete then I was last year. I am not planning on going to college, so the odds of me ever being a part of, and competing on a track team again are slim.” Although he will be graduating, he hopes the young athletes he leaves behind at Webutuck will be able to compete, sooner rather than later. “I am hoping sports will resume early enough in order to let some of my young friends continue with their high school athletics. I would assume that the soccer team will figure out a way to still grow as players and make the most of their fall season.”

Coaches and Administrators Weigh In

Jim Terrall, Keaten’s father and a coach at Housatonic Regional, was not coaching at the time and heard about the shutdown from another coach who was, “very upset.” He added, “It is difficult to work hard all season and not be able to finish. It was very frustrating, especially for the seniors, but in retrospect I think the CIAC acted responsibly.” Terrall is hopeful high school sports can return in the fall. “We certainly are hoping for a fall season. The value of high school sports cannot be overstated, not only in terms of physical and mental health, but in emotional maturation during adolescent years. With that said, our reality has obviously changed. The CIAC needs to be creative in adjusting to this new world. And both coaches and players will need to be flexible in accepting those adjustments. Public health concerns need to be addressed and guidelines strictly adhered to. Thankfully, we have some time before the fall seasons begin.” Terrall believes that some sports may be treated differently than others. He explained, “I coach soccer, where physical distancing is much harder than say, cross-country, but less so than football. We will have to have new protocols for both practice and games and build in physical distancing as much as is possible. There will be a lot of energy dedicated to navigating how to play sports at all levels during a pandemic. I am hopeful that it is possible.”

A high school year without sports just doesn’t seem to make sense, Terrall opined. “There will always be an increased risk, but that will have to be balanced against the harm it will do our athletes to cancel sports. I have had many kids whose motivation to come to school is directly tied to interscholastic sports. We need the best minds throughout the country to figure out how we can minimize the risk to personal and public health and still have interscholastic competition. Hopefully, as other counties open up, models will emerge that we can draw guidelines from.” Matt Pascale, Webutuck Director of Physical Education and Athletics, along with other school officials worked closely with New York Section 9 officials throughout the process leading up to the sports shutdown. “We initially postponed the season on March 13 and waited until Section 9 and NYSPHSAA (New York State Public High School Athletic Association) gave the official cancellation notice. We were all holding out for a shortened season, however, the more weeks passed, the more likely we knew spring sports would not be salvaged.” He said the school’s student-athletes were “deeply upset” by the news. “There are a wide array of emotions going on right now, from sadness to anger. Tack on the fact that all school activities have now been cancelled for the remainder of the year and this is something that is truly unfathomable for all of us. My heart breaks for our seniors and for 2020 graduates across the state and nation.”

Based upon conversations Pascale has been privy to, and closely following the directives Governor Andrew Cuomo is laying out, he is not hopeful that there will be fall seasons at this point. “I would say that interscholastic teams and contests for the fall are also very much in jeopardy. I’m praying for a change in the winds, but, again, the outlook is grim.” He cannot imagine a scenario where the actual competitions between teams looks different than it has traditionally. “What that possibly looks like, your guess is as good as mine. Nothing like this has happened since the 1918 Spanish Flu; what we do and how we react will depend entirely on the hand we are dealt. Could I see games being played without fans? Could I see modifications on game length or frequency? It would not shock me if we did. We all just need to remember that if we have our health, we have it all; we have been all given a boatload of lemons and we just need to keep making lemonade. If we can remember to give great effort, have a positive, can-do attitude, and we train ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually each day, there’s nothing we can’t overcome.”

Housatonic Regional’s last interscholastic contest was March 9 when the CIAC made the difficult decision the next day to cancel all winter tournaments. School was then suspended before any spring preseason practices began.” The shutdown was especially difficult for coaches and players on the Housatonic boys ice hockey team. On March 9, the 15th-ranked team beat number two Newington in the first round of the Division III State tournament. It was the first time in tournament history that a 15-ranked beat a second-ranked team. High School Athletic Director and Middle School Athletic Coordinator Athletic Director, Anne MacNeil, says, “The team was excited about the win and looking forward to advancing. When I called the coach, Dean Diamond, he thought I was joking. The team was devastated. We had a strong chance of making the finals.” MacNeil remains optimistic “we will be able to do something in the fall,” she says. “I feel that it may look different without spectators. If COVID-19 is still around in the fall, it would be a challenge to adapt athletics to the social distancing guidelines and sanitizing requirements. A sport such as cross-country could adapt to social distancing better than football. My feeling is I would want all sports to start together. It’s just a fair way to do it. I am confident that the CIAC will get us back playing sports as soon as it is safe to do so. I’m sure there will be guidelines for us to follow. The safety of our student athletes, coaches and officials is of the utmost importance.”

The Millbrook School began spring break on March 7 and students were scheduled to return on the 25th. While on break, the school made the decision to turn to remote learning, and suspend athletic contests. Officials were initially hopefully to get back to campus with some form of athletics before the end of the school year but that will not happen. “The kids and coaches took it hard,” explained Brian Krauss, Director of Athletics at the private school. “It was especially difficult for our seniors. Some have the chance to play next year in college but many missed their last chance to compete. I would say that our kids have been understanding and supportive when in a group but certainly voiced frustration to coaches in one-on-one settings.” Millbrook is planning for a number of scenarios for the fall. A schedule has been built and the school is also making plans in case they cannot hold interscholastic games that would entail more of an intramural style of play on campus. “Athletic directors have discussed the potential of swapping some spring and fall sports,” said Krauss. “Perhaps some of those sports with more contact would be moved to the spring. That plan is in the very, very early stages.”

Karl Zigmand, Director of Athletics and Co-Curricular Programs for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Massachusetts, says his district closed on March 13 and suspended all after-school activities. “The coaching staff did a great job assembling a video for our athletes to encourage them to stay Spartan Strong” says Zigmand. “I think there was always a feeling in the back of people’s minds that we would return in a couple of weeks. Students were holding out hope we would return with a shorter season. Now that it has become official that there will not be a spring season, I know it has been hard on our athletes. Our kids are being hit with so much change. Now, there seems to be more of a focus on the loss of graduation, prom and things like that. I’ve been very impressed with how our community has handled this and it reminds me how blessed I am to be part of the Spartan community.” Unlike some of his peers, Zigmand is not optimistic about sports returning in the fall, “unless things change for the better drastically” he said. “Governor Baker seems to be taking the responsible stance on reopening, which is probably best in the long run but will delay any kind of organized sports in my opinion. Maybe golf or tennis could be a go? There are already some very detailed guidelines in place for when golf courses and tennis courts do open in Massachusetts (later this month), so perhaps those could be used for high school sports teams.” Zigmand predicts, “lots of social distancing guidelines put in place with removal of basic things like the handshake line and things like that. It’s so hard to predict at this time but there will be changes.”

Following Little League International guidelines, on March 12, all pre-season activities were suspended until April 6th. “Our Opening day was originally scheduled for April 18,” says Mike Denatale, President of the Taconic Little League. “Then on March 16 we suspended until May 11. Since then, the guidance from LLI was basically to follow local guidelines for the resumption of activities. As of last week, LLI has canceled this year’s World Series and Regional Tournaments. Everyone took it hard. At first, the reaction was a kind of disbelief. Many people early on thought the pandemic response was an overreaction, but it quickly became clear that this was serious. We still have many families that express their longing to get out onto the ball field.” Denatale and league officials hold out hope that youth baseball can resume in the area this summer, but it “remains to be seen.” He added, “We also plan to follow-through with our normal Fall season, but even that may be in jeopardy, no one really knows.” When play resumes, he believes sports will look about the same as they always have. “I can see some more individual sports starting sooner, something like tennis, but team sports, and especially youth sports, draws a lot of spectators. That is likely to be something we will have to figure out. There may be restrictions on shared equipment or at least formal methods for disinfecting equipment. Maybe minimizing spectators. It is so hard to tell right now. It just feels like we are in limbo.”

Hope Springs Eternal

According to Kelly Milano, Recreation Director for the town of Amenia, NY. “The Webutuck Valley Youth Soccer League is hoping to have the season. I am in contact with the WYVSL and they are planning on the normal season. We will be following the Governor’s orders and I will be in contact with the WVYSL when the time comes. ​We are definitely hoping that we will be able to play with fans. Our parents and fans in this town and the surrounding towns are very supportive of the youth programs.” Trisha Lawrence, President of the WVYSL, said, “We are hoping for the best and that most, if not all sports will resume as soon as possible. We believe that all organized sports are a way for children to get out and have fun, but at the same time, we want our players and their families to be safe. It is hard to predict if team sports will have a different look. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken everyone by surprise and it is something that none of us has had to deal with before. If there are any precautionary measures that we as a league need to take to ensure our players and families safety, then we will do them.” Milano said the cancellation of the youth baseball season was “devastating to our town.” She added, “If things open back up at the end of summer we are hoping to have a weekend or two of just fun games. Another recreation sport that we have is Cheer. The season starts in September and we are optimistic that we will be able to start on time. Our competitions are January through May so we are really hoping that everything will be back to somewhat normal. “

Ian Strever, Principal of Housatonic Regional, believes schools will have to follow strict guidelines for any kind of contests, and these may be different for each sport. “It would be impossible to play sports like soccer and football under the current restrictions, but cross-country and volleyball might be easier. The CIAC has been discussing how this might happen, but it will require a loosening of restrictions by State officials.” Volleyball, for instance, might be more possible if balls are cleaned after each point, and cross-country could take advantage of “virtual” formats and allow racers to compete in more of a time trial format. It is important, Strever says, for student morale to resume sports. “It gives student-athletes purpose in their training, and for some students, it motivates them to complete schoolwork. School morale is important, but without the ability to gather as a school community, our first priority is student mental, physical, and emotional well-being in this distance learning paradigm. When students are happy, healthy, and connected to their school and community, morale improves for the entire organization. We are doing all we can to help students with that under the current constraints, but there is no question that students are happier and more connected when they can see friends and teachers in school.” Strever said academic leaders’ first priority is resuming academic life in “whatever format that can happen”. Strever emphasizes sports are important extracurricular opportunities, but due to the proximity of competitors, there are many more challenges that will need to be addressed by governing bodies such as the CIAC in order to ensure the safety of student athletes. “The research that is being done at the professional and collegiate levels to facilitate the return of sports in those settings will inform the decisions of high school officials about how to go about this safely, and it will require vigilant, uniform implementation at all schools. This could involve significant rule changes, cleaning requirements, longer game times, and transportation costs. These all come at a cost as well, and schools will need funding to be able to comply with any kind of significant new requirements.”

As with life in general these days, uncertainty seems to be the buzzword when it comes to youth and high school sports during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We can only hope for the return of the sound of a ball meeting bat, kids high-fiving one another after a great hit or play, and proud parents watching from the sidelines. Each of these moments will soon, once again define, who we are as Americans.