In the Catholic High School Football League (CHSFL), spring is normally a time where teams are engaged in their offseason workout programs with their sights set on the upcoming fall season.
Remember though, during COVID-19, nothing is normal.
This past fall, the CHSFL season was postponed, since football was deemed a high-risk sport by New York State. Teams were however able to participate in a 7-on-7 format with no pads to at least stay sharp for whenever the full season would begin.
Several weeks ago, that call finally came. The diocesan teams of the CHSFL are currently in the midst of a four-game schedule featuring full pads and lots of pent-up energy. Most teams went more than 500 days without playing hard-nosed, competitive football.
“We did the 7-on-7 in the fall, but it wasn’t the same,” said Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, head varsity coach Tim Smith. “We were appreciative of that, but this is what we really wanted.”
Earlier this spring, teams were given 10 days to fully prepare for competition. Luckily, the student-athletes were able to participate in conditioning drills starting in January, so the recent preparation period served as more of a tune-up for game action.
With a number of Catholic high school sports all going on simultaneously, football teams have practiced wherever there is open space. For the Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, Clippers, that even includes running drills in the school’s parking lot.
Of course, the safety of student-athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators remains paramount as the games continue. Players wear gaiter masks on the sidelines that they can pull down once they’re on the field. Social distancing is enforced, and each player has their own water bottle. There are no locker rooms, and seats on the team bus are spaced out.
In the scheme of things, these safety measures are merely a minor inconvenience. What’s important is that full-contact football is finally back.
“It’s almost like we were holding our breath for the whole time, and now we’re able to breathe,” said Xaverian head varsity coach Mike Jioia. “If everything else fails, at least we were allowed to play one more game.”
Especially for seniors, this shortened spring season gives them one last chance to put on their uniforms and represent their school after more than a year away from the game.
“It was a long time for a lot of us,” said Xaverian senior and team captain Thomas Leahy, a wide receiver and cornerback. “Just stepping onto the game field, it was very exciting, and the whole team was ready to get this game going. As soon as the game started, it felt like any other game. Honestly, it’s just a blessing to be able to play right now.”
“It was a lot of excitement,” said Holy Cross senior and team captain Thomas Graham, the team’s center, long snapper, and defensive tackle. “There was a lot of build-up to the moment where we got to play football once again. For me it was a moment of joy, knowing that I got to put on pads for Holy Cross at least one last time.”
Getting back out on the field allowed these student-athletes to realize that football is truly a gift and an opportunity they must not waste. If they consider it a privilege to play, they’ll work even harder toward their goals of becoming better players and better people.
While it’s tough to fully ignore the COVID-19 headlines for any period of time, these CHSFL teams were able to turn their attention away for a few hours and play the sport they had been waiting so patiently to play for more than a year.
“It was an unbelievable feeling because it was a step toward some normalcy,” Smith said. “For the first time, they were able to escape the word ‘pandemic’ for a couple of hours. They were able to focus on doing something that they really love to do. The word ‘pandemic’ was not mentioned once in those three hours.”
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