By Eric Belyea
As was the case in most regions in the country last spring, Long Island student-athletes had their worlds turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. All educational services came to a halt.
One year later, things are trending in a more positive direction, especially in the academic sector, as more students are returning to in-person learning environments and high school athletics are in full swing, though nothing is like it used to be.
North Shore High School is one of more than 120 high schools on Long Island, and is a consistent high-performing presence on the interscholastic athletics scene. The Vikings won a Nassau County championship in 2004, and lost county finals in 2014 and 2015.
North Shore High School baseball players are finding ways to make socially distant practices work this spring season.
Assistant coach Robert Gates is as excited as his players to get back on the field. Although he could not be there to help work the team out in the fall because of Covid-19 restrictions, North Shore’s head athletic trainer, Mike Gonzalez, had an alternative for athletes in the Viking family. Along with Gonzalez at the helm, North Shore created an intramurals program, giving the student-athletes the chance to compete in games, albeit against their own friends.
Gates credited Gonzalez with making the return to play smooth. The team was able to get normal weight room rotations after the new year, but with ample restrictions. Once the preseason began, Gates was able to begin normal throwing progressions with the team, but made sure players were spaced out to follow Covid-19 protocols.
The pandemic also pushed what would be the fall sports season into the spring, and football is now under way across Long Island. North Shore is known for its multi-sport student-athletes, but with the Fall II season being held in the spring, many Viking players are also hitting the gridiron. Gates said with the football team playing at the same time as the baseball team, it’s a big difference this year.
“Half of our varsity [baseball] team is playing football,” Gates said.
The uncharted waters of interscholastic activities in 2021 have given student-athletes even more of an opportunity to be outside and exercise with their friends. The quest for a championship has been overshadowed by the opportunity to help young athletes, both physically and mentally.
Gates said his team was thrilled to practice and conduct drills, because before the spring, everyone was uncertain whether there would be a season. He also stressed the importance of communication between players and the coaching staff in order to help the players mentally.
“It is imperative to know the kids are OK,” he said. “During times like this, it is OK for all sports to be put on the back burner to make sure all kids are safe.”
North Shore is adapting some new policies, including letting the entire senior class in the building at one time each Friday, as opposed to the normal hybrid schedule, so the senior class can end the year together.
“Although it is just the seniors, when you know it’s a game day, each kid gives their teammates that look like ‘it’s game day,’” Gates said, “and each kid is pumped up all day. Having the senior class in school as a whole is great, but for my athletes, it’s even more exciting.”