MILLBURN, NJ — With the coronavirus pandemic halting day-to-day life for the time being, high school sports programs are stuck in a state of limbo.
As long as schools remain closed, athletic events are shelved as well. However, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) put out a press release on April 1 saying that they would attempt to salvage however much of the season that they can, as long as a viable path remains open.
“We have not given up hope on a spring season,” NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White said, indicating it may have to happen “in a condensed version.”
In an additional announcement over the weekend, the NJSIAA also noted that any salvaged Spring season would extend no later than June 30.
While the release seems promising, the lack of information regarding the timetable for the universal quarantine creates a difficult situation to gauge. The question still remains for athletes and administrators alike as to how they can pick up the pieces.
TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills talked with three members of the Millburn High School Athletic Program: Athletic Director Frank Bifulco, Boys Varsity Baseball Coach Brian Chapman and Girls Varsity Lacrosse Coach Alexandra Gartenberg, to get their opinions on the impact of COVID-19 on spring sports.
Millburn’s AD Bifulco gave his thoughts on how much time teams will need if and when play resumes in order to practice and prepare.
“This is something I have felt strong about since we took to this distant period,” he said. “In speaking with all of my coaches along with other colleagues around the state/county level, it is essential we try to salvage some sort of a season.”
Bifulco continued, “Upon our return, I feel we would need one week at most to get our feet back under us, get practicing and organized, then I feel we should just get into competitions.”
Bifulco went on to praise the school’s athletes and coaches on their work during the quarantine thus far, and the tremendous effort being put in on both sides.
“[…] I must say all the work our coaches and players are putting in thus far is amazing,” Bifulco said. “I am involved in all of our team’s communications behind the scenes, and I am really impressed with the work not only from the coaches but the response from all of our kids.
“It’s not a secret that these are trying times, however the hope is when we return to normalcy our players will be mentally prepared to take on any challenge put forth in front of them.”
Coach Chapman put the situation in perspective, focusing more on how players can improve during this time rather than wait around for something to happen.
“Truthfully, I have given very little thought to what may or may not happen in terms of the 2020 season,” he said. “I have zero control over that, so it seems like a waste for me to spend any energy on it. Instead, I am trying to encourage the players to use this extra time to ‘hit their reset button.’”
“We talk all the time about how challenging situations create opportunities. This is quite possibly the most challenging situation any of us will ever face, and I am hoping our players are able to find the endless positive opportunities that have resulted.”
Chapman also gave insight into the worst part of the lost season as a coach, who looks forward to baseball starting every spring.
“I miss the everyday interaction with my students and players. I have tried to stay in constant contact but there is no substitute for being in the trenches out on the field or in the classroom with these incredible children I am fortunate enough to work with. This forced ‘separation’ has reinforced my passion for working with students and athletes and my goal is to come back as an even better teacher and coach!”
Coach Gartenberg placed emphasis on the importance of staying ready for the season to resume at any time.
“The best way for them to mentally prepare is to keep practicing their sport and skills individually so they don’t lose momentum” she stated. “They need to keep fostering their love for the sport like they hopefully do throughout the year.”
“Keeping in touch with teammates and coaches is also very important. There’s been a movement to rename ‘social distancing’ to ‘physical distancing,’ which I understand because you don’t want to lose that social connection. That’s especially important for team camaraderie.”
Gartenberg also explained how she has kept in touch with her team and helped them stay in shape while forced to stay inside.
“On our Google Classroom, I’m giving them daily posts of drills (lacrosse-related, agility, conditioning, etc.) to keep their workouts fresh. I also hope that they have cultivated healthy habits like stress management, time management, nutritious eating, and more sleep. […]
She added, “Athletes are more than just athletes and students, they’re whole people who need to make sure they take care of the mind and the body.”