By Gabriela Carroll
In Sag Harbor, youth soccer is the latest sport to return to action after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Sag Harbor Youth Soccer’s summer season usually starts July 4, but Pierson varsity boys soccer coach Peter Solow restarted the Sag Harbor Youth Soccer season this month, after US Soccer and the Eastern New York Soccer Association released guidelines for the game to continue.
“We’re still in what I would consider a dry run or a pilot program for seeing what we can do in the regular season,” Solow said. “We’ve been meeting Mondays and Wednesdays, between 15 and 20 kids, high school and middle school-aged, and we have more coaches than we have normally. What we would be doing in summer is having these massive pickup games where we will find alumni and parents to participate, but now it’s more structured.”
The goal of Sag Harbor Youth Soccer was to create a more community centered and relaxed alternative to club soccer, where people of any age could play together year-round. The pandemic made it difficult to have those larger gatherings, but parents and alums have responded positively to the changes, and coach Kevin McCarthy said they have the same enrollment they expected pre-pandemic.
Practices now require a screening before entrance, where someone takes the temperature of every player and coach and asks them if they’ve experienced any symptoms. When players enter, they set down their belongings 6 feet apart from their peers, and are then permitted to take off their masks while playing.
Most of the practices consist of socially distant drills and technical work, according to McCarthy, with scrimmages, but no organized matches. Sag Harbor Youth Soccer plays in the same park they’ve used for years — Mashashimuet Park, with permission from the town, but no spectators are allowed.
Those protocols were taken from the Eastern New York Soccer association recommendations, which still explicitly recommends against larger tournament style-play and non-socially distant play as a whole.
“US Soccer and the Eastern New York Soccer Association have been really very solid about giving us guidance about exactly what to do,” Solow said. “The protocols we’re looking at, that was part of the documents they sent to us. We also have to be in compliance with our state and local municipality to support any regulations that are established by that. I’ve been impressed by the amount of information that US Soccer has provided us. I mean it’s been pretty terrific.”
With the fall sports season at all Long Island high schools canceled or postponed, the role of youth sports like Sag Harbor Youth Soccer in the community increases exponentially. Though the practices are only open to middle and high school aged players right now, Solow said he hopes to be able to incorporate younger players in the coming months.
“We initially were thinking about doing it for little kids, from kindergarten to fifth grade,” Solow said. “But we wanted to be cautious and make sure that we were doing things the right way, and that we had everything down pat before we asked those kids to get involved.”
Creating more robust fall programming is something that Solow has looked into for a long time, and with the announcement of the postponement of the fall season, he is considering the possibility of extending the year even further, but says the pandemic makes it an extremely tough challenge.
“We wanted to give the kids the opportunity to train, play,” Solow said. “Not just the older kids, but young kids too, and have a recreational thing to do related to soccer if the interscholastic sports weren’t available. We saw this possibly as an opportunity, and, again I underline that nothing is definite. We haven’t organized anything yet. But we have been in contact with the park and talking to a variety of people about this.”
One of the coaches, Isabella DiRussa, is a student on the club soccer team at George Washington University and a Pierson alum. With her spring and now upcoming fall seasons canceled, Sag Harbor Youth Soccer is her primary soccer outlet.
With most of the athletes in high school, DiRussa said the skill level is relatively similar to what she’s played with in college, and that having this outlet has been good for her to continue to play the game she loves.
“When all schools were canceled in March, as a student player, I wasn’t able to play soccer for a couple of months,” DiRussa said. “Honestly, I’m just really happy to be able to play, and play with the kids, and to make their experience during this time a little bit more pleasant.”
McCarthy said that though they considered shutting the season down completely, the overwhelming interest the players had in playing in some capacity gave them the motivation to keep going and try to find a way to resume safely.
“Soccer goes beyond soccer,” McCarthy said. “It’s really a good opportunity for the overall health and well-being of the kids to get together and play. Those types of opportunities have been sorely missed for the last five months, so I’m glad that we could create a safe environment for them to do that.”