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Malverne, West Hempstead district leaders discuss potential return of high-risk high school sports

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Talks about the return of high-risk high school sports have already taken place in both the Malverne and West Hempstead school districts. Nassau County health officials approved guidance put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 22.

Malverne High School had kicked off its intramural program in October, with pandemic safety guidelines in place. Based on the success of the program, district officials are optimistic about the return of high-risks sports.

“I think getting the kids back into sports and extracurricular activities has been outstanding,” said Steven Gilhuley, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and educational services. “Our kids are excited to be out there with their friends, participating, and it’s because of the protocols that everybody’s been following.”

Malverne Schools Superintendent Dr. Lorna Lewis said during a district town hall meeting on Jan. 28 that mandatory testing for student athletes would take place every Monday at the high school. Their temperatures would also be checked, and all guidelines for personal protective equipment, social distancing and hand sanitizing would be followed.

West Hempstead Superintendent Daniel Rehman said during his weekly superintendent update on Jan. 29 that a survey had been sent out to community members, asking for their thoughts on the return of high-risk sports.

“I’ve met with [Chris] Mistretta,” the district’s athletic director, “as well as our coaches to discuss their thoughts,” Rehman said. “If we do have sports, it will look nothing like sports [have] in the past. The games will be similar, but practices definitely will not, as maintaining protocols and keeping students safe has to be our first priority.”

Rehman added that the district had been fortunate in limiting the number of Covid-19 cases, and that officials hoped to continue that if high-risk sports return.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced on Jan. 27 that public and parochial schools that met state guidelines could conduct games as soon as Feb. 8. “I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and rinks they love so much and to bring a little normal back into their lives,” Curran said.

The guidelines require the wearing of masks even among those playing, unless they are unable to tolerate them. Those who are not on the field must maintain social distancing, and sharing of equipment or drinks is prohibited.

Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, the governing body of Nassau County high school sports, said that since participation is the primary goal this winter, there will be no playoffs for basketball and no postseason for wrestling. Basketball teams will play eight-game schedules, while wrestling squads will take part only in dual meets.

“We want the largest number of kids playing in the most number of games, and this was the way to do it,” Pizzarelli said.

Lewis said that the safe return of high-risk sports also depends on the safety practices of spectators. She cautioned parents and district residents against congregating after victories.

“I know those celebrations that happen when we win games,” Lewis said, “but I’m begging you to be socially responsible . . . we have to be very mindful of wearing your masks.”

Tony Bellissimo contributed to this story.