Hope and continued uncertainty.
That was the big takeaway and the reaction from the New Jersey track and field community after NJ Governor Phil Murphy announced on Thursday that public schools in New Jersey would remain closed through at least May 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic. NJ public schools have been closed since the middle of March.
If Murphy had ordered schools closed for the remainder of this school year, the NJSIAA would most likely have had no choice but to cancel the track and field season and all other spring sports.
The NJSIAA remains hopeful that a spring sports season can be salvaged.
Here is the statement the NJSIAA issued on the heels of Murphy's announcement.
Bill Bruno, the NJSIAA Track and Field Tournament Director, said at least there's still a chance to have a partial track and field season.
"It keeps hope alive that something can happen for the NJ Track & Field athletes whether it be at a league, conference or state level,'' said Bruno. "Of course another decision will be made between now and 5/17.''
Last week, the PIAA officially shut down their spring sports after it was announced by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf that schools would not return this academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Metuchen coach Marty Holleran is thankful that New Jersey hasn't followed what Pennsylvania and many other states have already done.
"It's promising news,'' said Holleran. "It still give kids the chance to get back maybe as early as May 18th and possibly still have a season since the NJSIAA has said we can compete up to June 30th. I am happy we haven't followed the route of some states and completely ended our school year or spring sports... We don't have to pull the plug yet and this gives kids hope and that will allow them to continue to train.''
Scotch Plains-Fanwood coach Jeff Koegel gladly accepted the positive news.
"That's another four weeks, but at least he didn't cancel the rest of the year, so there's still a ray of hope,'' said Koegel. "While it's still another four weeks, it gives us hope that we can get an abbreviated season in. That would still give us six weeks of training and meets if schools were to reopen after that. We will remain hopeful.''
Koegel had a video call with his distance runners on Friday to tell them the latest news.
"They wanted to know what was going to happen,'' said Koegel. "I told them I didn't know, but we are going to proceed like we are going to have a season and they should get out and keep training. If the season happens, the meet directors and coaches will figure things out from there. They seemed pretty positive. For a lot of them, I think it meant a lot just to see each other's faces and to talk to each other. We are together year-round except for breaks between seasons. Summer training, XC, winter track, and spring track. We spend a lot of time together. They miss being at practice and they miss working out with their training groups. We've been apart for five weeks now. The last time we were allowed to practice was March 12th.
While Freehold Township coach Todd Briggs understands Gov. Murphy's decision and is happy that the door for the possibility of an abbreviated season still remains slightly open, the uncertainty over whether there will be season causes some problems with training and coaching.
"The governor is making decisions like this upon the advice of doctors, scientists and health care professionals,'' said Briggs. "He isn't just making these difficult decisions on a whim. And I understand that. With that said, while a decision to push school closures, and therefore, high school sports to May 15th is in a way a good thing because it leaves open the potential for a return to school/play. In another way keeping that potential and hope alive actually presents more difficult situation for spring sports coaches and athletes. Putting together training plans in two to four week blocks without knowing if or when a competition will take place is more perplexing than knowing for certain there will not be a return to play this spring."
Briggs said another concern is the long term effects that current training could have on high school athletes.
"There is no doubt I want a season of any length for the athletes, but training blocks usually build upon the ones that come before them,'' said Briggs. "And the training blocks build toward races. If you don't know when or what the race will be, putting together a training plan In a 2 or 4 week block is like flying in the blind. You also have to think about the impact this training could have long term for the athletes beyond the spring. Runners of this age are not used to doing the bulk of their running on sidewalks or streets. With the closures of parks across the state, most runners I'd imagine are hitting the roads. Anybody who knows anything about running knows the body reacts differently based on the surface you consistently run on. And the same is true for field event athletes or hurdlers and sprinters. This many weeks operating out of their norm could have lasting negative results. I can post training plans for athletes online for eternity. But I'm doing it without seeing them actually go through the training. Any coach knows, putting a plan on paper and seeing it play out are two different things. The athletes may not know when it's time to modify a plan b/c something just looks or seems not right. Whereas countless times I have modified training plans based on how I see the runner performing during training. I do start to worry as this drags on about the risks we are taking having athletes train on their own. Of course, there are athletes with the tools, resources and experience to put themselves successfully through the plan. But, I'd have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.''
Haddonfield coach Nick Baker said having the season continually pushed back makes formulating a plan for his athletes very difficult.
"I feel like they are giving us the bad news in small doses,'' said Baker. "As coaches we all plan backwards from our team and individual goals and that is hard to do right now. We are all in a maintenance running phase and just keeping our kids spirits up. Having the spring season pushed back feels like watching a runner who broke his leg and the doctor says you will be off the crutches and cleared on May 15th to race again. The young athlete is very excited about being able to race, but you know as a coach that there will be many steps that has to happen before he will be ready. We have a lot steps to take before we are even close to being ready to open up again.''
Brian Gould, who coaches at West Windsor-Plainsboro North, said he feels especially bad for all the senior athletes who have no idea if they will ever get a chance to compete in high school again.
"I feel for all these kids, especially the seniors,'' said Gould. "They're being patient and doing all the right things, but this is a very real loss for them. the uncertainty is so difficult. I wish, for them, things were different.''
Ramapo coach Bill Manzo said his track and field team is like a family to him, and being away from them has been very difficult.