AN INTERVIEW WITH ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, PETER MANCUSO
HARLEY’S ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, PETER MANCUSO, FINDS HIMSELF THINKING ABOUT SPORTS IN AN ENTIRELY NEW WAY BECAUSE OF COVID. BEGINNING LAST YEAR WHEN SPORTS WERE HALTED ONE WEEK INTO THE SPRING SEASON DUE TO THE NYS LOCKDOWN; AND CONTINUING THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC, PETER’S COLLEAGUES CONTINUE TO CAREFULLY BALANCE SAFETY AND TEAM SPIRIT FOR EVERYONE WHO PUTS ON AN HAC WOLVES UNIFORM.
Q: Peter, please share with our readers a few ways that things are different now.
Once the pandemic hit and the 2020 spring sports were paused and eventually cancelled, we all knew the 2020-’21 season was going to be very different. All of a sudden, we were waiting for the Governor’s office to pass along rules and regulations for a restart and the ‘chain of command’ became very different.
Local health departments around the state were weighing in, as were schools themselves; there were a lot of different feelings about a restart in the fall. There were many people with many opinions who now needed to reach consensus on what the right path forward looked like. It took a lot of work, but we made it happen.
Back in Spring 2020, our athletes couldn’t participate in team sports, so some of our dedicated coaches stepped up and figured out ways for students to continue training and stay connected with teammates from home. Our track and field coach, for example, had his runners use Strava, a free online website/app (www.strava.com) that serves as a sort of social network for exercise. They could see who was logging runs, participating in challenges, and they could engage in group chats. It definitely helped with motivation–and keeping the team together.
After much discussion this past fall, we were allowed to move forward with varsity sports teams in tennis, golf, and cross country because they were outside for nearly all of the practices and contests. One major change was that Allendale Columbia decided not to participate in the fall season. This was the first time since our schools joined athletic programs in 1972 that only Harley students comprised the teams. We did not field a boys or girls varsity soccer team based on school administration decisions, so some of our student-athletes gave a different fall sport a “go,” which proved to be a great overall experience.
By only running varsity teams, some of our younger and up-and-coming student-athletes were unable to participate in interscholastic athletics, so we started up some after-school intramural programs that became very popular. Once the winter rolled around, we turned to swimming and both Harley and Allendale Columbia were confident we could make it work for both the modified and varsity teams.
Q: Tell us about the modified swim team this winter.
Well, Lorie Rick and Lee Allen are our dedicated coaches, and they just have such enthusiasm about working with kids in this age group. Allendale Columbia students were back in the mix and many students really wanted to participate–which meant the team was larger than usual. Students were excited about the opportunity to connect with friends, get moving, and, honestly, have the chance to be part of a team. Especially now when they have limitations on socializing outside of school because of the pandemic.
Nearly everything needed to be rethought. For example, how many kids can practice in a lane? We developed clear masking rules and ran practices as multiple small groups instead of one large group. The kids were great about following all the protocols and were very excited to be back participating in athletics. Even busing was different as new guidelines allowed only one student per seat.
Another twist is the fact that Section V covers eleven different county health departments and some were interpreting rules and regulations differently and also adding more stringent guidelines. It added another layer to scheduling and playing contests.
Q: Some districts just aren’t running sports and other “extracurriculars” this year. Why is it so important that we are able to do so?
In my opinion, the team camaraderie is very important for kids in Grades 7-12. There are so many positives that athletics brings to a student-athlete (physical, social, emotional, etc.), and the need was very apparent to me.
There are worries that student mental health will suffer, and sports teams right now can be a safe place to be together. In addition to sportsmanship and physical health, sports provide our student-athletes a way to be united, learn, and feel proud.
There were some districts in Section V that didn’t participate in any fall sports, and they worked hard to get their student-athletes back in play for the winter. I’d say every Athletic Director, coach, and school administrator who worked to get their student-athletes back into athletics this year is feeling very happy they did!