With experienced, senior-laden teams, the Johnstown boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams were looking forward to the 2020 spring sport season with aspirations of league, Section II championships and runs deep into the regional and state tournaments.
A dark cloud fell over those dreams Monday when the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced it was canceling its spring sports state championship tournaments, as it did with the winter sports state championships.
Later in the day, Section II followed suit, calling off its sectional championship tournaments. However, the section left the door open for teams to have a spring season, depending on when and if schools re-open as New York State schools and businesses are on pause until May 15.
“We waited an entire year through that issue of raising money to get the ship back on the right course. Everything was in order and we started our season and then the bottom fell out,” Johnstown Lady Bills lacrosse coach Denise Benton said. “It is nobody’s fault. It is a horrible situation, but the section is not going to let anybody play until the students are back in the physical school building. Who knows when that is going to happen? I would take an abbreviated season over no season.”
The Lady Bills won their first Section 2 championship since 2006 last season and finished one game away from reaching the state final four.
In a statement Monday, Section 2 Executive Director Ed Dopp said, “We continued to work through these unprecedented and challenging times, Section 2 of the NYSPHSAA Inc., will in accordance to our Mission Statement, do all in our power to provide the support and guidance to our member schools and to advocate for the student-athletes, coaches, fans and school communities. No one values and understands the benefits and life lessons learned through interscholastic athletics more than us. At the same time, we will do all that we can to help defeat this pandemic, slow and eventually stop the spread of this virus.
We will continue to follow the directives, guidelines and recommendations that come out from our Federal, State and local government agencies as well as the State Education Department and the NYSPHSAA. We as an advocate for our student-athletes will continue to hold out hope that our student-athletes will have the opportunity to return to interscholastic athletic competition. We as a section will continue to hold out hope that our sprint student-athletes still can compete, on whatever timeline and for whatever duration we are allowed too.”
Major factors in the decision by the Section 2 Executive Committee include: time, facilities, athlete preparation and the many still unanswered questions regarding restrictions and specifically social distancing.
“The whole situation is unfortunate,” Gloversville athletic director Mike DeMagistris said. “We are still in the crisis but having sectional and state championships is just not feasible with the time constraints we will be under. If we are back in school on May 18, it may be up to a local decision if teams are going to have a season. We would love to give our kids, especially our seniors, some sort of a season. It would be a shortened season. It is unfortunate, but the health and safety of our athletes and their families comes first.”
For the Johnstown boys lacrosse team, this spring was to be culmination of a trip that started with years of dedication that started with the youth program.
“This is the team that started in our youth program when they were fourth graders,” Johnstown varsity coach Scott Petrie said. “This is the start of our youth program. They are winners because of their dedication in the off eason. Then with all the build up to the season this is like pulling the rug out from under them.”
Before Monday’s announcement, Petrie said the team was already bracing for the announcement.
“We were a little bit geared over to the idea that we probably wouldn’t be playing for a sectional title,” he said. “We have been putting out the message to continue to hope to be able to play. Certainly, we thought we had a legitimate a state contender this year with everyone returning but two players. It is just heartbreaking.”
Monday, Benton and her staff were out placing signs in front of the homes of the senior players on the team.
“We have nine seniors that are going to miss such a great opportunity for a re-run at the championship and achieve a number of new records and personal bests,” she said. “All kinds of things were ready to happen this year. It is heartbreaking. Nothing you can do anything about, but it is heartbreaking for the kids. I delivered senior signs to our players and I just looked at their faces and had to hold it all together so I didn’t start crying.”
As his team waits for guidelines for the remainder of the school year, Petrie said, “We have sent out messages to the kids that this is the time to step up and help your neighbors. Do something good.”