Players Grateful to Play in CHSAA Hoops Tourney

Holy Cross High School and St. Francis Prep squared off on May 3 at tournament host site Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. (Photo: Jim Mancari)

It’s been a year of uncertainty in the local high school sports scene, but one thing is certain: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That was the theme for the CHSAA boys’ basketball league, which resumed on April 19 with a month-long tournament at Archbishop Stepinac H.S. in White Plains. All 12 Diocese of Brooklyn boys’ varsity basketball teams are competing, along with 10 teams from the Archdiocese of New York.

Since New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has still not approved indoor high-risk sports such as basketball, all the games are taking place in Westchester County, which operates under New York State safety guidelines.

“Without Stepinac, this never would have happened,” said CHSAA Basketball Chairman and tournament organizer Paul Gilvary. “It’s a huge undertaking, so we really appreciate the administration, basketball staff, and everybody else involved at Stepinac for allowing us to do this.”

Each of the 22 teams is guaranteed a minimum of five games in pool play. The top two teams in each of four divisions will take part in playoff rounds, with two champions being crowned on May 27 – one for the ‘AA’ league and one for the ‘A’ and ‘B’ leagues.

Gilvary began drawing up plans for the tournament in late March when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that high-risk sports could resume in the city but only if they occurred outside. Given safety concerns, outdoor basketball was never an option for the resumption of play.

No fans are permitted at the tournament games, and student-athletes and coaches are subject to daily health screenings and temperature checks. After each game, Stepinac staff members give a full cleaning to the gymnasium. Masks are required for all participants, though some players are able to remove the mask on the court if they are unable to tolerate it.

“Every sport is trying to do the best that we can for our students,” Gilvary said. “Unfortunately there are a lot of obstacles as a result of the pandemic. We’ve worked very hard to put something together. Even though this is not what we all wanted, five games is a lot better than no games.”

Knowing the CHSAA would have safety measures in place, local teams jumped at the chance to play some competitive hoops once again.

“We were in the moment they said there was an opportunity to play,” said Dan Wiatre, head varsity boys’ basketball coach at St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay. “The guys have been pumped up to play. We had been preparing the whole time just in case, but I don’t know if anyone including myself thought it would actually happen.”

“Being able to play just a couple of games, I’m really excited,” said St. Edmund senior point guard and team captain Malik Cole. “I went into my senior year thinking the season probably wouldn’t happen because of COVID, but now we’re able to get a couple of games. I’m happy to be representing my Eagle pride.”

For seniors, this tournament gives them one last chance to play for their school. Call it cliché, but this appears to be a storybook ending for these enthusiastic student-athletes who have had such a challenging year.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” said St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, senior point guard and team captain Todd Rochelle. “We’ve been waiting all year and have been in the gym all year practicing. We never really knew if we were actually going to suit up and play. To hear we’d have the opportunity to play a mini-season, it was just amazing.”

“Our kids have been terrific,” said St. Francis Prep boys’ varsity basketball coach Jimmy Lynch. “They show up, they practice and they work out. Whatever we ask them to do, they’ve done it.”

“Especially for our seniors, I’m really glad they’re able to play one more time to finish out the school year and their high school careers in the right way.”

There was undoubtedly a will to play this tournament, and thanks to the countless hours of dedication from Gilvary, Stepinac, and all those involved with the planning, they found a way to get it done safely.

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