Fall sports return to practice

Katya Tolunsky, Staff Writer

As fall sports return with an intramural model, new safety guidelines require athletes to wear masks and social distance at all times throughout practice.

 “I’m sure there’s some disappointment and lack of incentive to participate without having interschool competition,” Director of Athletics, Health, and Physical Education Robert Annunziata said. “But our school is fortunate to have our students here in person, on campus with an opportunity to participate in intramural play. There’s a lot of schools not in person, and we are making the best of what we have available to us.”

Athletes will be broken up into cohorts of eight to 10 whenever possible and spread out according to social distance guidelines, Coach Michael Duffy said. 

Coaches will provide mask breaks frequently and encourage the use of individual equipment whenever possible. If shared equipment is needed, it will be disinfected properly, he said. 

The Varisty Water Polo team is not permitted in the pool yet, so instead athletes will perform exercises in the fitness center, pool deck, and the observation area. In all of those spaces the students will be spread out, Duffy said. “This is actually providing us an opportunity to strengthen our shoulders, become [more] fit, become stronger and also raise our water polo IQ by working on strategy.”

14 boys and 23 girls are allowed in each locker room at a time, and there will be a monitor at each entrance to ensure that social distancing protocols are followed, Annunziata said. The fitness center has a maximum capacity of 14 people, and the aerobics studio holds eight people.

Varsity Field Hockey goalie Piper Wallace (11) said this season will serve as an opportunity for the team to improve their fundamental skills. “It should be a time for people to decompress after a long day of school and have fun, as opposed to just being stressed about what our next game is,” she said. “Having it be intramural allows us to still play as if it were a real game without the actual stresses of it being one.”

Some athletes are concerned about the difficulties of wearing a mask while playing sports. Wallace played field hockey over the summer and couldn’t wear her mask because she could barely breathe, she said. “I’m a goalie so I have to wear a helmet, a mouth guard, and a mask,” she said. “It’s not easy.”

In a week, the state’s guidelines will permit the Boys Varsity Soccer team to start playing contact soccer while still wearing masks, Varsity soccer player Lucca Correia (11) said. Until then, all athletes are required to social distance, and the team will mainly be doing drills. 

Correia is grateful the school is holding sports despite the new safety precautions. “I appreciate the lengths in which Horace Mann has to go to to make this work, and I think it’ll definitely be worth it,” he said.

The Boys Varsity Football team is not playing contact football this season. Instead, they plan to focus on drills to improve their technique, Varsity Football player Nathan Zelizer (11) said. “We’ll be doing a lot of tackling drills but with pads instead of humans,” he said. “We’re going to try to make sure that this season isn’t just a wasted season.”

Ryan Nikitiadis (9) is worried about the difficulties of staying six feet apart while playing volleyball, she said. “We are usually pretty close together, and volleyball involves a lot of teamwork.”

The Girls Volleyball team is divided into four groups, and each group practices two days a week; one group uses the main gym while the other practices in the Lower School, Destiney Green (11) said. Everyone on the team has to sanitize their hands before passing the ball, she said.

Since the athletes will be playing against each other instead of other teams, Green thinks the competitiveness within the team will rise. “But I’m really excited to have something I enjoy to look forward to after school, even if it is different from normal,” she said.

The Cross Country team will meet four days a week and practice for only an hour, since it is difficult and tiring to run in masks, Maya Nornberg (11) said. 

Although this season will be different, Duffy is optimistic that his athletes will still improve a lot and enjoy their season, he said. “It’s definitely gonna challenge us because we are not doing what we typically do, but sometimes adversity brings teams together.”