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After losing an entire season in 2020, athletes in spring sports will be back in action in 2021.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's Sports Advisory Task Force announced its schedule for the 2021 spring sports season on Friday morning and it includes a full calendar of games along with an NJSIAA-sponsored postseason.

For all spring sports, virtual contact may begin on March 1. Boys tennis can start practice on March 26 with matches beginning on April 19. Golf practices can begin on April 1 with competition beginning on April 9. For baseball, pitchers and catchers may report on March 26. For all other spring sports, practices will begin on April 1 and competition will start on April 19. The season will run up to June 20.

Since the entire 2020 spring sports season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NJSIAA's goal for 2021 was to have a full season of games that includes a normal state tournament structure. The start of the season was pushed back to minimize overlap with sports being played during Season 2A and Season 3, but there will still be significant overlap with three sports.

“Minimizing overlap and avoiding direct conflicts between sports has always been a top priority of the Sports Advisory Task Force,” said Dave Frazier, chair of the task force. “After the loss of the spring 2020 season, we want to ensure every student-athlete has the opportunity to participate in each sport they would have during a normal year.”

“Multi-sport athletes should be celebrated, and not made to choose between two sports that they love,” said Colleen Maguire, COO of the NJSIAA. “As a result of indoor practices and competition being suspended per Executive Order No. 204, some overlap between seasons is unavoidable. But based on our latest plan, student-athletes will still have the opportunity to compete during all seasons.”

There will, however, be nearly one month of overlap for the Season 3 sports of wrestling, gymnastics and girls volleyball, all of which have seasons that run through April 24. For those athletes, they would miss out on the entire preseason as well as the first week of games depending on how deep they advance into the postseason. It may force athletes to make a decision on which sport to play.

Cip Apicelli is the head coach of both wrestling and baseball at Ocean Township High School and will have to juggle both sports during the overlap period. Apicelli is ready to make that work as a coach but feels for the athletes who will have to make much harder decisions.

"If there is a day where we have a baseball practice and a wrestling match, I go to baseball practice and when it's time to go to the gym, I leave baseball practice and my assistants take over. Easy," Apicelli said. "The issue is when you tell a 15-to-18-year-old kid that if he or she plays two sports in those overlapping seasons, they are going miss games in one of the sports. The NJSIAA has said throughout this whole process that their goal was to avoid making athletes choose between sports and this going to make a lot of them have to choose."

Apicelli said he sees athletes put in that position will make one of three choices: 1) They will opt not to play one of them altogether; 2) They will quit during the middle of the winter season to prepare for the spring; and 3) They will follow the schedule and will be forced to miss a week's-worth of games in their spring sport - a sport many of those athletes already missed a chance to play in 2020, when the entire season was canceled.

"Don't get me wrong - I am thrilled that the NJSIAA is doing the right thing and giving the spring athletes a full season," Apicelli said. "They said they were committed to giving spring a full season and that's pretty much what this is, so I commend them for that. I just don't see why they can't push (the start of spring season) back another week and end the season on June 27 instead of June 20. It's still comfortably within the June 30 deadline (when the 2020-21 school calendar ends) and it would eliminate kids having to choose between sports."

There is precedent for the overlap when it comes to practice time, however. For example, last season's basketball season was scheduled to end on March 22 with the Tournament of Champions and lacrosse season was scheduled to begin on March 25. Only a handful of teams would have been playing that late in to the season, however.

"We are striving for a postseason in Season 3, whether it be sectionals or a state tournament in wrestling and gymnastics. We anticipate some kind of tournament in Season 3 and that comes at the end," Maguire said in a video conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon. "The Task Force likens it to the basketball season. We recognize there is a five-day overlap in competition and while that's not ideal athletes won't have to wait to have six days of practice with one day of rest. They can get right in."

"I am sensitive to that because I have that situation with one of my coaches," said Frazier, who is the Athletic Director at Rutherford High School. "The multi-sport athletes will have to finish their current season before starting the other. There are some challenges, especially for small schools like min, but our message is going to be to concentrate on the season you're in and when you're done the other season will be there waiting for you."

Tournament information for all spring sports will be available by February 15, according to the NJSIAA's news release.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights. 

 

 

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