Celebrating a Safe and Successful Winter Sports Season



Meet you at the finish line—Members of the girls’ track team gather together to take a picture at one of their meets. Despite the absence of fans and competitors in the bleachers and track, the girls keep pushing on in a COVID year.

Louie Chung

In the past year, we have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19 on sports. In high school, sports not only provide physical wellness, but also an escape from the stress of daily life for many students. We create communities, make life-long friends, and hone our skills. As we came back to school in the fall of 2020, many had questions about what sports would look like for the school year. On September 22, Section VIII of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) announced that the fall season would be postponed to March 1, 2021; the winter season would start on February 4, 2021, and end February 26, for a 47-day season. The sports that were cleared to play were bowling, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, swimming and track.

The NYSPHSAA Return to Interscholastic Athletics and Great Neck Public Schools Reopening Plan has regulations in place to ensure coaches and students can play in a safe manner. One consequence is clear enough: due to the safety regulations, highlights such as bus antics, team outings to diners and restaurants, and the roar of a crowd after winning a game were absent. Despite those losses, students were nonetheless excited for the season just to attain some form of normalcy in their lives. Below is an overview of the 2021 winter season for each sport. 


In a year with one big asterisk hanging over it, the bowling team managed to have a successful season considering the circumstances. Coach Matthew Corrigan and his team followed the safety regulations such as mask-wearing 24/7 and no spectators. Both the boys and girls teams had six members each with practice held four days a week, Monday—Thursday. Coach Corrigan is most proud of his team for “being committed to the program and working hard each day trying to improve.” In a season where the boys team was missing key returning figures in their starting lineup, the young athletes stepped up and finished third in the conference. With a full-strength squad, the girls were determined to win silverware and managed to procure their first conference championship in 11 years, with a twelfth place finish overall in Nassau County. 


Considering the high-risk nature of the sport, many basketball players were prepared not to have a basketball season this year. After significant pushback from parents, the district administration made the decision to switch from an intramural program to a regular basketball season. The original intramural program had perks, including skill-based direct instruction and a clinic-like atmosphere. Despite these perks, a full-fledged season brings a level of hype and excitement that clinics cannot provide, which is what ultimately led to the decision to reinstate basketball as a winter sport.

The number of people who tried out was significantly fewer compared to years past; the uncertainty and safety concerns undeniably played major roles in this result. With no time to waste, tryouts were forgone and practices were held over break. “I am so proud of the commitment they [the varsity girls’ team] demonstrated, proud of the decision they made to go through all the logistics to give up their break,” said Varsity Girls coach Michelle Sorise.

In an effort to keep COVID cases to a minimum, weekly PCR tests were required, masks were worn “to the extent that you can tolerate it” per Section VIII rules, and schedules were carefully organized so only one sport would occupy the gym at all times. While competition always remained a factor, the shortened 8-game season with no playoffs shifted much of the emphasis towards safety and player development. The season was all about “enjoying the game and putting in place things that will help us be competitive [in the future],” said Coach Sorise. 


Fencing is among a number of sports that naturally allows for social distancing. Given the natural distance, the weapons and tactics of the sport provides, fencing is one of the safest sports in a COVID sense. Practices were run every day on a cohort schedule, and only the starters and a small number of subs were brought to meets with a 12-player limit. In a normal year, a typical meet might see fans cheering in the stands and the team huddled up, talking strategy and looking for angles. However, this year, everyone maintained a six foot distance, and no spectators were permitted to attend. “All of them [fans and teammates] watching you, willing to give advice or cheer for you, is very reassuring and pretty motivational,” said epee captain Andrew Choe.

Despite all the obstacles in their path, coaches Joshua Baravarian and Catherine Sagevick were not looking to waste this season. As two premier teams with extremely high expectations, the fencing teams had their eyes on the prize and did not disappoint. The girls team had an undefeated regular season and won the Nassau County Championships for the third year in a row. Not to be outdone, the boys triumphed over their opponents in an incredible come-from-behind victory, winning the County Championships after narrowly missing out on the crown last year. “I’m really proud of the team for remaining consistent throughout our training, and I’m happy to say that we have always showed up when needed, and we have not let COVID dictate how our season goes,” said Choe.

Reigning Champions—The boys fencing team poses with their plaque and South High flag after completing the comeback and securing the County Championship. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Choe.)



The gymnastics season kicked off on January 4 right after the holiday break. With a new coaching staff at the helm filling in for the usual gymnastics coach, the girls gymnastics team were raring to go. To stay safe, the girls socially distanced at all times and washed their hands after using each piece of equipment. Protective spray was also applied to the equipment, and masks were worn around the clock except in the case of a safety issue or while competing. Practices were held every day on a cohort schedule with zoom workouts centered around strength and conditioning sent to the girls on their home days.

Great Neck South made a decision that all meets would be conducted virtually; judges would come to both schools separately, record and compare scores. “Gymnastics is such an individual sport anyways. You’re never in control of who you’re competing against, you’re only in control of your own performance,” said Coach Jan Zettwoch. As a first-year coach for Great Neck South, Coach Zettwoch’s main goals were to maintain safety and inject some heavily needed normalcy into the girls’ lives; improvement and results were still a priority, but safety was #1. However, the team went above and beyond and improved greatly given the less-than-ideal circumstances. “Overall they improved in skill and improved in confidence, and I was very impressed and proud of what we accomplished in such a short time,” said Coach Zettwoch. While the girls unfortunately did not qualify for any of the postseason meets, they posted their best numbers and routines at their senior meet and ended the season on a high note.


Amidst heightened COVID-19 concerns, the boys swimming team’s season stayed afloat with implemented precautionary measures. These precautions included a reduced number of swimmers in the lanes, a division into cohorts with athletes coming on their respective cohort days, and separation of equipment and virtual meets. In virtual meets, swimmers raced against themselves in their respective school, recorded their times, and compared them with the other school’s times. “Without another swimmer from the other team to push us, we had to get all of our motivations from inside. Luckily, our teams had some really spirited people, and the coaches kept us pumped while we swam,” said swim team captain Harrison Weinberg.

Against all odds, the boys had a very successful season in terms of not only health but also competition. A successful outing in the Nassau County Championships saw Senior Justin Whang winning the 200 IM and 100 backstroke and being voted Co-MVP alongside senior Nicholas Shen, who also won Diving for the fourth consecutive time. Sophomore Thomas Huh also won the 50 yd freestyle. In a COVID-19 season with heavily reduced numbers, each member from the boys swimming team stepped up to the plate and made it a competition as usual. “It did not look good when the COVID cases started to increase around the holidays. I am happy for the athletes that they were able to swim,” said boys coach James Morrow. 

Just keep swimming—In the blink of an eye, the swimmers are in the water and the virtual meet has begun. The boys take full advantage of their time in the water and dive headfirst into a shortened season. (Photo courtesy of Harrison Weinberg.)



In a year featuring a significant decrease in players, the cancellation of numerous meets and practices due to extreme weather conditions, and a cancelled postseason, the track team has proven their dedication and commitment time and time again. During the season’s preparations, coaches Damon Reader and Hudson Georges spent considerable time drafting safety protocols to ensure a safe return for their team. The practices were set on a cohort schedule with the boys and the girls having joint practices. Masks were worn for the majority of the running with minimal exposure on the more taxing intervals.

Like the swim team, meets are conducted virtually with the runners competing against themselves with their respective times being recorded and shared with other teams. Many athletes found it difficult to stay motivated and train in quarantine with no season guaranteed. However, some runners challenged themselves with workout buddies and run streaks to hold themselves accountable. “I found motivation with the help of teammates and keeping my goals and expectations in perspective,” said Senior Kyra Au.

“I’m very impressed with how they [the team] understood that this season is bigger than they are, and I really commend them for their mature attitude,” said Coach Reader.

It’s said that running is 90% mental, and the track team definitely proved that this season, showing up and giving full effort in every stride, day in and day out. “Overall, it felt like a very positive experience, and I think everyone enjoyed being outside in the company of friends. Plus, runners enjoy running,” said Coach Reader.