Shore Conference holding out hope for a spring season of high school sports
In the last 10 days, the United States has gone from business as usual to having everyday life turned on its head.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has reached the US en masse. In New Jersey, severe restrictions have been placed on businesses, schools are closed for the foreseeable future and the Garden State is basically on lockdown. The prospect of a spring season of high school athletics at the Jersey Shore looks bleak, but the Shore Conference isn't giving up hope.
"I'm not ready to think about not having a spring season," said Rich Carroll, the president of the Shore Conference and athletic director for the Middletown School District. "We are committed to giving our athletes some type of season and a sense of normalcy when things are safe. What that looks like I can honestly say I have no idea."
These are no doubt uncertain and unprecedented times. Most winter sports were completed, most recently the wrestling season, which ended on March 7 in front of a sizeable three-day crowd at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Two days later on Tuesday, March 9, NJSIAA basketball sectional finals were played inside jam-packed gymnasiums throughout the state. The next day, a handful of group semifinals were played but things started to unravel as the day went on. Rutgers closed its campus and canceled any third-party events, which included the boys state finals. The games were moved to Phillipsburg but the school district pulled out several hours later.
On Thursday, March 10, the remaining state semifinals were scheduled to be played -- and some were, but without fans in the stands. Hackettstown pulled out of its Group 2 semifinal game. Manasquan then did the same for its highly-anticipated game against Camden. Egg Harbor Township refused to host a Group 4 semifinal game between South Brunswick and Atlantic City, which ended up being canceled anyway. On Friday, March 12, the NJSIAA made the historic decision to cancel the remainder of the basketball season.
The spring season was scheduled to begin with games on March 25 for lacrosse and April 1 for all other sports, but that also changed quickly. Over the weekend schools around New Jersey began to make the individual decision to close and move to online learning, most through March 27 and some into mid-April. Today, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that starting March 18, all pre-kindergarten, K-12 schools and higher education institutions in the state will be closed because of the ongoing novel coronavirus threat.
When schools will re-open is unclear. Obviously, without schools in session, there will be no athletics. The Center for Disease Control has recommended suspending gatherings of more than 50 people, including school, for eight weeks. If that ends up being the case, schools around New Jersey wouldn't reopen until the middle of May.
"We continue to have dialogue internally and with the NJSIAA as to what options we have but everything is pure speculation at this point in time," Carroll said.
National emergencies have altered the high school sports landscape before, but never like this.
"This is different than anything we've ever encountered," Carroll said. "During Superstorm Sandy or even 9/11 we knew there would be time off but we also knew that there would be a return to play so we were able to prepare for that."
Now, all anyone can do is sit and wait; preparing for the worst-case scenario but holding out hope that life can return to normal sooner than later.
"No timetable has been set for any decision to terminate the season," Carroll said. "The Shore Conference hopes and prays for the safety of our athletes and fans during this crisis."
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.