Monroe-Woodbury softball players and coach Penny Roberts aimed high with their goals early in the school year.
A Section 9 title wasn’t going to be enough for a team that returned seven starters, including 2019 Varsity 845 player of the year Sam Ryan, from a 20-1 season. The Crusaders believed this was their year to make a run at a state championship.
Those hopes were dashed Monday when the New York State Public High School Athletic Association canceled all of its spring sports championships as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. However, there is still a slight chance there could be an abbreviated regular-season schedule.
Executive director Greg Ransom said the Section 9 Athletic Council will wait until Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes his next announcement on the New York Pause, which has kept schools closed until at least May 15. The governor said on Monday he expects to open up portions of the state that are not highly affected at that time.
If schools in the section – located in Orange, Ulster, Sullivan and Dutchess counties – are open by May 18, the Section 9 Athletic Council has kept open the idea of conducting a small spring season.
"Everybody is hopeful we can get the kids, especially the seniors, something, even if it's just a couple weeks," Ransom said. "But we can't do it willy-nilly. It has to be done safely."
He said that if the schools aren't reopened by May 18, the athletic council has agreed to do away with the season. An attempt to start the season later than that date, he said, would essentially be futile given the scheduling conflicts.
As well, he warned, the schools could be reopened with conditions. There might be classes held, but extracurricular activities disallowed.
A small chance is better than no chance, Roberts said.
“From a Section 9 standpoint,’’ Roberts said, “I appreciate that they are giving these kids every chance to get back on the field. If the data shows that it can't happen on May 15 or May 18, then it can't happen. But at least they were given that chance.”
If schools were to reopen, Ransom couldn’t forecast the start of practices or competitions based on potential restrictions or the continued practice of social distancing.
The state’s governing body for high school sports canceled championships for baseball, softball, track and field, boys and girls lacrosse, golf and boys tennis. This decision comes a month after the NYSPHSAA cancelled the remainder of its winter championships, with several local teams still alive in the regional rounds.
“Unfortunately, with the continued impact of the COVID-19 crisis, hosting the spring 2020 state championships is no longer feasible,” NYSPHSAA president Paul Harrica said in a statement. He cited the time crunch and venue availability among the determining factors. “Canceling the remaining winter state championships in late March was challenging and the cancellation of our spring state championships today is equally disappointing.”
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus topped 282,000 in New York on Monday, including more than 16,000 deaths.
Warwick girls lacrosse coach Denis O’Connor said his three-time defending section Class B championship team was ready for another run this spring. The opportunity to play in a fourth consecutive state tournament has ended.
“It's very disappointing,” O’Connor said. “My heart goes out to the seniors. They are not going to have another chance and I'm very concerned that we are not going back to school this spring and not going to have any spring sports at all.
“My team was going to be extremely young, a bunch of freshmen and an eighth grader with some really good senior leadership. I thought we had a decent shot of getting back to the section finals and playing in states.”
Though the odds are slim for any action this spring, Roberts’ message has remained clear and consistent: stay ready and focus on strength, fitness and endurance. Roberts has received video of player workouts.
“These kids have been chomping at the bit for a championship after falling just short,” said Roberts, whose program lost one-run games in the 2017 and 2018 Section 9 Class AA championship. “I'm really hoping and praying that something comes about.
“I have to be honest, championships aside, I just want to see my kids in their uniforms one more time. Just one. I just want one more game. I'm not asking for the moon and the stars. Give me one more game where we can honor these athletes for what they've been in the program for six years. They deserve that moment of recognition and thanks.”
Eliz Fino, a standout on the Highland/Marlboro girls lacrosse team had similar sentiments, saying she gladly would accept a schedule of “even two or three games” rather than being denied entirely her senior season.
Stephen Haynes of the Poughkeepsie Journal contributed to this report