The atmosphere in the Fonda-Fultonville High School gymnasium was raucous, crowd cheering, music blaring as a team of student all-stars took on the faculty’s best to provide an entertaining cap to an assembly that featured the final four of Fonda-Fultonville’s 23rd Physical Education Volleyball Tournament.
Then, an announcement cut in over the public address system. All students in the district were being instructed to bring all materials home with them that they might need to conduct “in-home learning” should concerns over COVID-19 force the school to close in the immediate future.
About 10 minutes after the volleyball action wrapped up — the faculty team beat both the student all-star team and the Can’t Touch This squad that won the tournament title — the edict came down from Section II that all scrimmages, non-league and league games for member schools have been postponed until April 19. Decisions on conducting practices were left up to individual districts.
As students left for a scheduled early dismissal, Rick Palumbo — Fonda-Fultonville’s baseball coach and a physical education teacher who coordinated the tournament alongside fellow teacher and volleyball coach Ashleigh Griswold — acknowledged that Friday’s fun event might be the last bit of sports in the district for the time being.
“A nice sendoff,” Palumbo said. “It might really be that.”
The letter from Section II executive director Ed Dopp to athletic administrators at the section’s member schools outlined that while the section was putting a halt on all games and scrimmages until April 19, effective immediately, it remained up to the individual districts to determine whether they would continue to hold practices.
Within two hours, most of the districts in Montgomery and Fulton counties had put at least some halt on practice activities. Amsterdam, Broadalbin-Perth, Fonda-Fultonville, Northville and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville have all suspended practices until further notice, according to emails from district athletic directors.
Gloversville suspended its practices for one week and, according to a post on the district’s athletics Twitter account posted just before 3 p.m., “will re-evaluate our practices on Friday, March 20th.”
Mayfield canceled its practices scheduled for Friday, and athletic director Jon Caraco said in an email he would be meeting with district administration ”to make a decision for next week and moving forward.”
As of mid-afternoon Friday, practices were still scheduled to take place at both Fort Plain and Canajoharie, though Fort Plain athletic director Charlie Karker noted as of 1:45 p.m. that the situation could change at a moment’s notice.
Canajoharie canceled practice for varsity and JV baseball and softball, but the school’s track and field team was scheduled to practice until 4:30 p.m. As of 2:45 p.m., practices were still scheduled to take place for Johnstown teams.
It’s been a trying time for spring coaches who were in the midst of their first week of preseason practice as concerns over the pandemic continued to mount. Prior to Friday’s decision to postpone games, baseball teams from Amsterdam, Broadalbin-Perth and Fonda-Fultonville had already made the decision to cancel planned upcoming spring training trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“Everyone is going through it,” Amsterdam baseball coach Robby Hisert said. “It’s not just an Amsterdam thing. Me and [Broadalbin-Perth baseball coach RJ Pingitore] have talked a lot with Broadalbin being close by, we’ve kind of been staying in touch and playing off each other. It’s the whole baseball community, not just Amsterdam.”
“I told my guys that we might not be able to practice together, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be home working out, eating right and staying ready,” Hisert added. “When April 19 hits, all it does is compact the season down a little bit.”
Johnstown girls’ lacrosse coach Denise Benton said that in lieu of practice, she held a meeting with her players and their parents Friday evening “just to kind of talk about the situation.”
“It’s still pretty up in the air. I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen,” Benton said. “How do you keep kids going for six weeks without competition?”
Benton, whose team won the Section II Class D championship in 2019, said Friday was a whirlwind day with news constantly changing.
“So much happened today in a matter of just a couple hours,” she said. “I’d rather get it taken care of now and give my parents a heads-up. It’s kind of crazy.”
Outside of high school sports, the Amsterdam Mohawks are scheduled to open their 2020 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season May 29 at Shuttleworth Park. Team president Brian Spagnola said the club is “monitoring the situation,” especially with the fallout of the NCAA’s decision Thursday to cancel its remaining winter and spring championships.
“With the college seasons getting canceled and so many other events postponed, we are hoping things are back to normal by June and we will fill an even greater need for players to play and our community to gather,” Spagnola said. “Obviously, we will monitor the situation like everyone else and hope by the summer things have changed for the better.”
While the annual Northeast Motorsports Race Car Expo at Via/Port Rotterdam that was scheduled to open Friday was canceled, Fonda Speedway promoter Brett Deyo said in an email that he was “optimistic” the Montgomery County Fairgrounds track would be able to open as scheduled for its open practice on April 11.
Deyo wrote: “we are hopeful any state restrictions will be lifted by then. I operate a touring series — the Short Track Super Series — and we have raced in Florida and Delaware already this year, so at least we have some cash flow unlike a lot of other promoters who may not get to start on time. In this business, we only get to open 20 times approximately a year. So losing even a single event is a crushing blow when we have expenses 365 days a year at our facilities.”
As he watched students file out of the gym after Friday’s volleyball event at Fonda-Fultonville, with a couple of his baseball players stopping by to try and figure out if they were still going to be practicing, Palumbo knew he was in uncharted waters.
“It’s bizarre,” he said. “It’s historical, because this has never happened before. We’ve never had anything like this ever happen where everything is canceled, postponed, whatever. It’s a serious deal. We’ve got a pandemic going on. It’s unprecedented.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.