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Lawrence High School navigates challenges of COVID-19 to move forward with winter sports

Lawrence High School's Kareem Hemsley takes a foul shot during the 66-55 road victory against Hillsborough High School on Feb 2.

High school athletic departments across the state have had to navigate and adapt to a new landscape during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even with the potential halting and resuming of sports due to COVID-19, Lawrence High School’s (LHS) athletic department is determined to continue moving forward with all of its winter sports programs.

“There is no question about it, it has been a challenge. It is a juggling act. We had town hall meetings with our students and parents before the season got underway and part of the message was being patient with us,” Athletic Director Gregg Zenerovitz said. “We will communicate all the changes and there will be a ton of changes. You need to find people to work the games and transportation, so there are a lot of factors that play into that.”

LHS winter sports are boys basketball, girls basketball, ice hockey, boys and girls swimming, indoor track and field, wrestling, weight room training and cheerleading.

“When we made the decision that we would have a winter season, it was a package deal that we would have our swim season, our basketball season, wrestling season, and our cheer team would practice and cheer during the halftime of our basketball games,” Zenerovitz said. “It was either we were going to do winter sports or we were not going to do winter sports. It was not going to be that we would do a couple winter sports and make a decision later on.”

The winter season for high school athletics in New Jersey had been broken up into three different seasons: Season 2, Season 2A and Season 3.

High school ice hockey began indoor practices on Jan. 2 and competition play started Jan. 15.

High school basketball statewide was able to begin official practices on Jan. 11 with competitions able to start on Jan. 26; swimming and winter track and field started official practice on Feb. 1 with competitions set to begin on Feb. 16.

Gymnastics, girls volleyball and wrestling practices all start on March 1 with competition play scheduled to kick off on March 16.

“We agreed with our conference that we would play within our Colonial Valley Conference. That helps. We have kind of created a bubble. We did that in the fall and we plan to do that in the spring as well,” Zenerovitz said. “We are just playing the teams in our conference, so that helps as far as rescheduling, because if you lose games you just reach out to your other athletic directors in the conference and play, it does not matter who in the conference.”

When asked if discussions had taken place regarding the potential scrapping of the winter sports season altogether, Zenerovitz said, “We weighed all factors. There was a time where I did not know if we were going to have a winter sports season.”

Once the determination was made that high school students would return to LHS on Jan. 25 on a hybrid schedule, then the decision was made that the school would move forward with winter sports.

Part of the reason for the delayed announcement on whether or not LHS would move forward after winter break was due to the increased COVID-19 cases in December.

“If our students did not return into the building on Jan. 25, we would not have had a winter sports season. Working with the leadership, administration and the Board of Education, we started all our winter seasons a week later than other schools,” Zenerovitz added. “For example, basketball practices were originally set to start on Jan. 11 and we started on Jan. 18 to just give us more time, especially after the holiday break, to evaluate everything.”

To better limit interactions between winter sports teams there are buffers implemented between practices as part of the athletic department safety protocols.

“Boys will come into the gym and practice for two hours, then there will be a 30-minute buffer and then our girls will come in. We wanted to make sure we implemented this to limit interactions, so that if we do have to shut down it is not the whole athletic department.

“Track teams will be waiting in front of the building away from other teams; our cheerleaders in the cafeteria; and our girls and boys swim team used to practice together, but we separate out practices with a buffer in between, so there is no interaction with the other team, so if we do have to shut one down it is not both of them.”

For Zenerovitz, he said he is fortunate to work with great head coaches and assistant coaches, who have been flexible during the efforts to navigate the pandemic.

“The message to our athletes is mask up, wash your hands, keep your distance and at the end of the day this virus is out there, practice hard and play hard,” he said. “We realize at any given moment that this can be shut down ,and be thankful that we have the ability to compete and practice.”

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