With a week and a half of the fall season left to go, the remaining schools in the Frontier League have decided to cancel the rest of their fall schedules for all sports, effective immediately. The schools include South Lewis, Copenhagen and Lowville.
The decision comes amid an outbreak in Lewis County that’s resulted in dozens of new virus cases, two of which have been found in a Beaver River Central School student and staff member, and another positive case in a Lowville Academy student. As of Monday evening, the total number of confirmed cases in the county since March has risen to 126.
“Sports are sports and they’re good and they’re important, but there’s obviously a bigger picture going on with the world around us and our county and everything else,” Lowville girls soccer coach Leo Sammon said. “We want to be safe and do everything we can to make sure that the kids are safe and that everyone is safe.”
Last Friday, Beaver River transitioned to a remote learning model for two weeks after a student and staff member were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, which ended the school’s fall sports season.
Over the weekend, 89 Lewis County student athletes and 17 coaches were tested for the coronavirus at Lewis County Health System in Lowville and all tests came back negative. On Monday evening, Lowville confirmed that a student (it’s unclear whether or not it’s an athlete) had tested positive for the virus and that the school would transition to remote learning Tuesday, with intentions of going back to in-person learning later this week.
With the virus cases trending upward, the superintendents at Lowville, Copenhagen and South Lewis decided to cancel their remaining fall sports seasons. This includes boys and girls soccer, tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming, which just began its season this past week.
“It’s exactly what we didn’t want to happen, Beaver River had a positive case and had to go remote, Lowville got their first yesterday and had to go remote and that left South Lewis and Copenhagen,” Copenhagen Superintendent Scott Connell said. “We just kind of felt that rather than prolong, we feel like at some point we’re probably going to have one (case) as well. In the interest of safety, and not even if that one person was an athlete, that’s going to impact everything else.”
“It’s safety first, we want to make sure that the community, the students, that everyone as a whole is safe, are safe, first and foremost,” Lowville boys soccer coach, Nick Matuszczak said. “I know public health here offered testing here on Sunday for any athletes and coaches who wanted to, but no one who tested, tested positive. So it wasn’t something that was caused by a sport necessarily, but we want to be cautious first and take care of our community first before we concern ourselves with athletics and getting out and playing games.”
Connell, also the assistant executive director of the Frontier League, was adamant that the decision to cancel sports, and the outbreak each school is trying to fend off, was not due to poor execution of safety protocols in athletics.
“We really want people to understand that we did everything right,” Connell said. “We’re not canceling this season because we tried to push the envelope and our kids got sick. We have no positive cases of any athlete. We did it right, we masked we socially distanced, we did everything right. This was an adult thing, this was a thing at a church and a thing at an auction that’s causing these positive cases in our kids. I hope people understand that we’re not canceling because we pushed the envelope and lost.”
Nearly 50 cases in Lewis County have been linked to a church gathering at Apostolic Christian Church on Oct. 11.
Of the Lewis County schools — Lowville, Beaver River, Copenhagen and South Lewis — only Beaver River and Lowville have experienced positive cases. Copenhagen and South Lewis have students home in quarantine after possible exposure.
For the athletes at the four Lewis County schools, their fall sports season ends after only a week and half worth of games. According to Connell, the athletic directors at Copenhagen, Lowville, South Lewis and Beaver River may petition the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to be able to play out their remaining season during the Fall Sports II season, which begins on March 1.
“We’re hoping that since we played a quarter of our season, that we can petition to the state (association) to be able to play in the Fall II season,” Connell said.
“I feel like we all have a good shot,” Connell added. “It seems like the state has their rules, but they have no rules for this. They’ve been very school-friendly when making these decisions, it’s not a hard line in the book.”
“I know we only played four of our scheduled eight games, so I don’t know what the deciding line is as far in determining that,” Matuszczak said. “I think regardless, I think it’s going to be a challenge getting games in during March and April.”
The idea of petitioning is not set in stone for all schools just yet, as Connell expects the athletic directors to come together to discuss it more in the future. Lowville’s athletic director, Rob Goss, didn’t want to comment on the possibility of his school petitioning the state association — it’s something he still needs to discuss with his superintendent, Rebecca Dunckel-King.
Despite it being a shortened season, Goss was happy with what he saw out of the student athletes.
“While I’m disappointed, I’m just really happy that the kids had the opportunity that they had,” Goss said. “Every school that we played was great, the kids, the officials, everybody worked together to get this opportunity for them.”
Sammon also said he was grateful for the games they could play. “There’s a lot of kids all around in the Frontier League who weren’t able to do anything, so I really just appreciate what we were able to do,” he said.
Each of the eight varsity soccer teams in the county played four of a scheduled eight games, with the last games being played last Wednesday.
“They were obviously frustrated, but at the same time they were ultimately grateful that we were able to get out and play,” Matuszczak said. “We met today a little bit and we talked about how our four Lewis County schools were the only ones up in this who even attempted to start a season and get to play at all. We may only have gotten in four games and a scrimmage, but the kids in Watertown and Carthage and T.I., they didn’t have anything.”
Lowville and South Lewis girls swimming competed in a scrimmage and a regulation meet before losing out on their respective seasons. Beaver River scrimmaged, but did not get to participate in a league meet. Red Raiders coach Noelle Haney was sad that her team couldn’t honor their two seniors.
“We had a lot planned, including celebrating our seniors Alexis (Dekin) and Maelissa (Roggie),” Haney said. “We’ll still get together and find a way to do that.”
“We did have a team meeting, there is some disappointment,” Sammon said of his team. “But I also think they feel they were lucky to be able to play.”
The Copenhagen girls tennis team was hoping for a repeat of last year’s Frontier League “B” Division tournament crown. The Golden Knights had won both matches this season after going 10-0 last season. Copenhagen coach Juli Hebert said that her team did its part in following coronavirus protocols.
“We’re disappointed that the season ended, but understand,” Hebert said. “We only want everyone to be safe.”
Times sportwriters Chris Fitz Gerald and Dan Mount contributed to this report.