By Avery Myers ’21
The dangers and concerns regarding COVID-19 have fostered a completely new reality for every citizen of New York. As the phases of reopening continue, and New Yorkers discover what this new reality of a COVID-infected world entails, sports are slowly entering a space of recommencement in the Northeast. Travel organizations for high school student-athletes have had to alter their seasons in the midst of the global pandemic. The two main components of travel sports for high schoolers are recruiting opportunities and the competitive level of the organization. While competitive youth sports may not fit into the category of an “essential service” in the eyes of state and federal officials, sports can be essential to the future success and growth of many student-athletes. Across the nation, travel sports organizations provide necessary opportunities to help athletes gain competitive exposure and improve their skills in hopes of playing at the collegiate level.
Some sports have been deemed more hazardous in regards to spreading the virus than others. All volleyball tournaments under USA Volleyball were canceled for the remainder of the season, which typically ends in early July. Volleyball tournaments are typically held in city convention centers that host hundreds of teams and up to thousands of spectators—including college recruiters. Such a volume of people in a tight space makes volleyball a very high-risk sport with respect to COVID-19.
Volleyball players across the country were disappointed to see the season end so abruptly.
Minnie Purcell ’21, a rising senior at the Convent of Sacred Heart, said, “It was sad that we had no idea it was going to be our last practice together and even more heartbreaking that the seniors weren’t able to finish their last club season. I personally thought that our team was finally clicking, and it was a shame that we couldn’t seek our full potential at all of the missed travel tournaments and practices.”
Because volleyball is not a summer sport, it was unfeasible for USA Volleyball to safely allow tournament play to continue as coronavirus cases spiked around the country this spring.
However, many other outdoor sports are in the process of compiling new and creative summer schedules to return to play as soon as possible. Baseball, for one, is relatively low in infection potential because of the lack of physical contact between players. Travel baseball runs primarily in the summer, making organizations all the more determined to get their players seen by coaches and back on the field. Although New York City is still in Phase 3 of reopening, many other states have allowed sporting events to commence. Oscar Osborne ’21, a rising senior at Poly Prep, took a trip with his organization Team Beast to Columbia, South Carolina to scrimmage and practice. Oscar commented, “The trip was helpful just to get a feel for the game again and shake off the rust from not playing for several months. I’m glad we had the opportunity to practice before being scouted by coaches.” Oscar’s season has officially begun, starting with tournaments in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia. However, the recruiting “dead period” for Division I sports has been extended to September, so no coaches can leave their campuses to recruit players over the course of the next two months.
Travel team organizations for baseball haven’t had to make any significant changes to rules of the game because players have little physical contact with one another. Soccer organizations, on the other hand, have had to completely alter the standards of playing to keep the game as safe and socially-distanced as possible. As of right now, travel soccer organizations are able to host practices on Long Island multiple times a week, but the play is limited to no contact. Players must wear masks, and cones are set up on fields to ensure that the athletes remain six feet apart at all times. These strict guidelines severely limit the intensity of the practices as well as the types of skills the athletes can improve on. Players are only allowed to do footwork and passing drills, core work, and cardiovascular sessions.
Tessa Weiss ’21, a rising senior at Poly Prep playing on team PDA Blue ECNL 2003, said, “We can’t play other teams yet, which means college coaches still can’t see us play. The dead period for recruiting has put a complete pause on recruiting abilities for all athletes, which has been really hard because all events are postponed.”
While many sports organizations are trying their best to foster a safe, yet competitive, environment for athletes to continue to make progress and prepare for a collegiate career, there is no perfect system for travel sports in a global pandemic. The path to bringing back youth athletics is a multifaceted process and differs by sport and where it is played. In New York, the procedures necessary to create normalcy again in the sporting world are moving slowly. Hopefully, student-athletes with a passion for playing at the next level will still be able to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.