A Crushing Blow for Stuyvesant Athletes—How They Are Dealing With This Time off the Field

The announcement, though expected considering the social distancing safety regulations the city and state have enacted, comes to the dismay of Stuyvesant student athletes, for whom the sports season serves as a powerful antidote to the stress and pressures of the school environment.

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The Stuyvesant Peglegs. Mimbas. Greyducks. Birdies. Lobsters. Penguins. The Stuyvesant athletic teams may go by a host of different names, but they all have one thing in common: they will not be playing this fall season.

In a recent announcement, the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) released their statement regarding the fall sports season, stating that “per CDC guidelines, the associated risk of any sport activity is increased when athletes engage in competitive play across different geographic areas” and that PSAL activities would be restricted to conditioning and practice only, should they resume at all. The announcement, though expected considering the social distancing safety regulations the city and state have enacted, comes to the dismay of Stuyvesant student athletes, for whom the sports season serves as a powerful antidote to the stress and pressures of the school environment.

Junior Shivali Korgaonkar, the right midfielder for the girls’ soccer team, was understanding of the plight of PSAL: “While I, along with many other athletes, are saddened by the news, I completely stand by the PSAL announcement to suspend the season for now.” Korgaonkar’s stance on the safety regulations and guidelines being imposed by PSAL is not one shared by everyone—the announcement has been the subject of much criticism. But, as Korgaonkar explains, the rules are there for a reason. “Transportation, practice, games, spectators, and so much more would be a danger posed onto athletes if the season were to continue normally,” she wrote in an e-mail interview.

Korgaonkar’s words were seconded by junior Yaqin Rahman, an offensive lineman for the Stuyvesant Peglegs. Though sad that he is not able to play football this fall, Rahman said he understood the decision made by PSAL. “The safety of students matters more than any sport,” he said.

The canceled season also came as a relief to Rahman, as quarantine has taken its toll on athletes. “Without a gym or being able to go outside, I wasn't in the best shape during quarantine and felt unprepared for a fall season,” Rahman said. However, quarantine has had one silver lining: free time. In Rahman’s case, this free time has been used to watch the sport he loves: “Our coaches would always tell us after practice to ‘go watch the NFL’ or ‘go watch film,’ and did I have a lot of time to do that!”

Junior Eliza Knapp, a member of the girls’ swimming team, echoed Korgaonkar and Rahman’s thoughts about the cancellation of the season, specifically noting that it would be difficult to hold swim meets if Stuyvesant itself wasn’t fully reopening. Knapp also elaborated on the effect of quarantine on her swimming ability and chances of swimming competitively in the future. “I don't really think chances of swimming at a higher level decreased because the season was canceled, but the fact that pools have been closed for the last six months has definitely negatively impacted my overall ability to swim,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “This summer, I didn't have the opportunity to improve at swimming because there wasn't a consistent place to swim.”

For Korgaonkar, Rahman, and Knapp, the canceled season means their time as Stuyvesant athletes will be temporarily halted. But, for others, it means they will not be able to experience Stuyvesant athletics for the first time this year. Stuyvesant freshmen interested in fall sports will not be able to try out for any sports teams—their dreams of becoming student athletes will just have to wait till next year.

Freshman Amanda Cisse, who had been interested in the girls’ soccer team, expressed her feelings about the PSAL announcement. “When I saw the announcement, I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to trying out for (and hopefully making) the soccer team,” Cisse wrote in an e-mail interview. “However, on a brighter side, I had been looking [into] a lot of other activities that Stuyvesant offer[s], and there were many that I was interested in, so I knew that if I wasn't doing a high commitment sport, then I would have more time to do those other extracurriculars as well as keep up with schoolwork.”

But unlike Cisse, who is a freshman, not everybody has the luxury of looking forward to next season. For Stuyvesant seniors, news of the canceled season is devastating.

Senior and golf player Sophia Lin is experiencing the dismay of a lost season. “It's quite disappointing to think that I might not be able to participate one last time,” Lin said. “I do hope I will be able to continue [playing golf] in college.”

Senior and girls’ soccer captain Aki Yamaguchi shares Lin’s thoughts on the matter. “It means everything to me to play with these girls, and it breaks my heart that I might not be able to one more year,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “There were so many things to look forward to, and as a second-year captain, I was excited to see how the team would grow and step up to what I thought could be our best season yet.” Though Yamaguchi has kept in contact with most of her teammates and set up practices, it is the thrill of the season she will miss the most: “I love going to practice and seeing my friends, some people who I have been playing with since freshmen to sophomore year and are my closest friends at Stuyvesant. Even just playing the other teams [and] comparing how much we have improved and changed astounds me [every time] the team steps onto the field.”

For the ultra-dedicated, safe, in-person practices are always an option. Though disheartened by the cancellation of her final season as a Mimba, Yamaguchi has organized in-person, socially-distant practices to keep the soccer team in shape and prepare them for next season. The team has met up once already, and Yamaguchi says she plans to hold a few more practices over the course of the summer to run some drills and scrimmage with the boys’ team. “We all miss each other, and preseason is always a fun time where we get to know each other better as a team and start to build up our chemistry… Overall, the practices are a way to see each other and get together while still playing the sport we love,” she said.

But for others who cannot meet up in person, practices will continue virtually, with the help of a tool many of us are all too familiar with: Zoom. Sophomore and cross country runner Alicia Yu elaborated, “We [the track team] will definitely have more Zoom calls in which we do yoga or a strength workout with our coach.” Yu is not alone.

Korgaonkar, outside of her weekly practices with the Mimbas, has also been doing online training with her club soccer team. “In the peak of this pandemic, my team was doing two to three Zoom practices a week,” she said. “Over the summer, I've been trying to get to a local field twice a week, but if not, I am able to do some small drills in my bedroom.”

But not even practices can make up for the lost season, especially for seniors. The only consolation for those still grieving is the fact that Stuyvesant sports do not end simply with the close of the season—they live on in the hearts and minds of players, for whom solace can be found in the memories of last season.

Lin fondly recalls one of her most vivid memories from the golf season when she first met her coach, English teacher Emilio Nieves. “It was my first time meeting with him, and when I got to the driving range, I stopped right next to him for a few minutes and then continued and walked right past him. He had to call me back and say it was him,” she recounted.

Yamaguchi also has stories to share from past seasons. While doing the team’s ab workout, “someone started playing ‘Send Me On My Way’ by Rusted Root, and we all just started dancing and singing,” she said. “I still laugh at the video that I have where I chased everyone around and had them smile in the camera.”

Cherishing memories and looking back on better times may be enough for some, but for those still dealing with the pain of a lost season or those who simply need a little guidance, Korgaonkar offers words of wisdom: “Salvage the time you have left with your seniors, and try to remember all the good memories you've made instead of focusing on the daunting end.”

So, appreciate the time you have left with your sport. Score that goal! Hit that player! Make that put! Because you might not get to next year.