Nassau County public high school athletes had only one week of practice and no games this spring due to the coronavirus, but Bellmore-Merrick’s players remained in constant contact with their coaches right up until April 21, when the season was canceled.
Baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field and badminton were wiped out this spring, leaving a path of heartbreak for teenagers, especially seniors, and coaching staffs.
The Calhoun High School girls’ track and field team was seeking a fourth straight spring conference title and planning to make a run at the Nassau Class AA championship. “We had every event covered with All-County-caliber talent,” said coach Joe Migliano, who noted that he typically leads the recruiting process for athletes by contacting a list of colleges provided by families.
Not all is lost, however. Bellmore-Merrick coaches are keeping up with their players virtually to ensure that they continue training and are well, both physically and mentally, officials say.
Continuing with virtual coaching after the season was canceled is optional, Central Superintendent John DeTommaso said, but those coaches who complete the season online will receive 50 percent of their normal coaching salaries. Two-thirds of that amount has already been paid, and coaches will receive the final one-third in June if they continue with their virtual sessions through the end of May.
The agreement applies to 21 high school varsity head coaches, 15 junior varsity head coaches and 23 assistant coaches. So far, all high school coaches are on board, DeTommaso said.
The agreement, though, does not apply to middle school coaches. Their spring season had not begun before school buildings were closed, the superintendent noted.
Club advisers, he added, will be paid their salaries if they also meet with students virtually.
All online sessions must be documented and reported to the central administration, the superintendent said.
“It’s about adults staying involved in their kids’ lives during this difficult time,” DeTommaso said. “Kids have a special relationship with club advisers and coaches, and we felt it was really important to maintain that.
“The district values the work of coaches and what they provide for the kids in our community,” he said. “Coaches invest a lot of time and have a special bond with student-athletes.”
Spring teams at Calhoun, Mepham and Kennedy began their seasons on March 9 and had five days of practice before the pandemic put everything on hold. For the past six weeks, coaches have remained connected with their players through phone calls, texts, social media and Zoom.
“We never stopped coaching,” Migliano said. “Bellmore-Merrick, hands down, has done more for coaches than the rest of Nassau County during these struggling times.”
DeTommaso said the unpaid salaries of the coaches and club advisers would likely be rolled back into the district’s general fund, but that remains to be determined.
Districts like Bellmore-Merrick are awaiting word from the state on their final aid packages. Without federal funding, many states like New York may have to cut districts’ aid packages, which would affect how their budgets play out.
“We certainly value every dollar we get from taxpayers,” the superintendent said.
Eric Caballero, the district’s director of athletics, said his strong relationships with DeTommaso and the Board of Education helped secure the 50 percent pay for coaches.
“Our superintendent and board have always been very supportive,” Caballero said. “Part of my job is to advocate for coaches, and I feel we have some of the best on Long Island. The coaches are always working during the offseason leading into their seasons. Long before practice opened on March 9, they were doing a lot of things that required time.”
Scott Brinton contributed to this story.