Let’s Hope Section 1 Admins Back our Student-Athletes
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
There were so many things about high school, Lakeland High, in particular, that were so cool back in the day, yet there were some things that I wish were different. I wish I had started on the gridiron and wasn’t just a scout on the “Look Team” for the Hornet club that knocked off rival Mahopac for the first time in decades back in the ‘80s. But I was happier than heck to be on that team when DT Joe Fiorentio’s strip-sack resulted in an upset victory and the ensuing party at Cegielski’s house (Lakelanders know).
With the state Education Department (SED) recently recommending high schools cancel what they deem “high-risk” sports – such as football and volleyball – in areas with high transmission rates of COVID-19 this fall, I just pray to God that our kids get the chance to have what we all once had: Pray that the state doesn’t play politics with our kids; pray that Section 1 administrators across the board follow Section 2’s lead and revise this recommendation and allow our kids to play sports, pray that school boards have the decency to enable it and pray that teachers are on board with getting back to some form of normal on Day 1, despite the raging political rhetoric against doing so.
“This bullet caught us all by surprise,” a Section 1 superintendent said Friday regarding SED’s recent recommendations, including vaxxing for all athletes. “We’re not getting any concrete information now. It’s a disaster.”
It better get revised, or all hell will break loose if our kids are harmed again. Either way, make a dang decision because our kids, who have been tragically affected by COVID since March 2020, need us to do right by them now, not in three weeks when their seasons are slated to kick off. You can’t just throw a football program together on a whim. There’s a ton of preparation for coaches and players, and there are roles to be sorted out, few as important as the scouts on the Look Team.
There’s always so much attention, and deservedly so, being paid to the scholarship athlete and their losses during the pandemic, but what about the average Joe, the scout player or the kid that only pops up along the sideline to high-five a teammate after a key play. They’re hurting, too.
I came to the Lakeland football program late back in the day – having spent my previous years in football-free Putnam Valley – and cracking that Hornet lineup, while not meant to be, was the hill I would die on (almost literally). Lakeland Coach Dennis Robinson, famous for baseball in his heyday, was the football coach then, too, and he often told me, whether he was jiving or not, that I was the best scout player he ever coached. (I’ll take that to the grave with me.)
As August turns to September and 90-degree triples lie in wait, scout players are going to play a vital part in the connection between the success or failure of each football team this fall, provided the New York State Public High School Athletic Association rebukes SED and erects a suitable plan to play.
“The student-athletes who participate on our Look Team serve as major contributors to our program,” Mahopac Coach Dominick DeMatteo said. “They must assimilate the offensive, defensive and special teams’ schemes of our opponent every week. Their attention to detail and effort within these roles significantly impacts our success on Friday nights. At some point in their career, every single player in our program participates on the Look Team. That’s how important we view it.”
The seniors on my team back in the day knew I deserved a crack at a carry or two or serving to give our top guys a couple of breathers. But that didn’t stop me and my oft-strained “ham-hock” from yanking myself off that two-yard pile of dust I would gain behind the second-team O-line, which couldn’t carry the first-team D’s jock on its best day. It was what it was, and nothing was going to change that, so we – my teammates and my brothers – made the best of it, every single day.
When it came time to cut loose afterward, it didn’t matter one bit that I hadn’t gained a single yard in the big win over Mahopac. The only thing that mattered to me, and them, was that I had done everything I could – on both sides of the ball as a scout player – to prepare my infantry for the wars we would endure on Saturday afternoons, which began every Saturday at 7 a.m. at what we affectionately called Gino’s Greasy Spoon, along Main Street right there in the heart of Shrub Oak.
My boys were my boys (thick as thieves), whether I played a down or not, because I gave them everything I had Monday through Friday from the middle of August until the start of my beloved basketball season. And they returned the love because I accepted my role as the scout RB of Fox Lane, Yorktown, Mahopac, Greeley, etc. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I played an important role in getting my teammates ready.
Beginning this week (God willing), thousands of other student-athletes will assume that scout role, and while you may not relish it, understand the importance of it and be the best teammate you can be because you never know when coach will call your number.
Mine was 22, and while it wasn’t called on much during football season, there’s not a single thing I regret about having sacrificed five months of my life each season for the beloved brotherhood that is football. To this day, I can gather with those boys poolside, and the stories we tell are as hilarious about the practices as they are about the games, so make the most of it and be the best teammate you can be.
And that goes for every sport, not just football. #ScoutsAreVital and oftentimes a coach’s best friend #LetThemPlay! #TimetoAdvocateAgain! Don’t let SED put the screws to our student-athletes again.
“I read, reviewed and reflected on the state education department’s health and safety plan for the 2021-22 school year and only one word comes to mind, shameful,” DeMatteo said in a tweet Monday morning. “Didn’t realize @NYSED was in the business of leveraging children with back door mandates. Vaccinate or you can’t play sports! Really? It’s time to advocate again.”
Indeed it is, my friend!