LOUDONVILLE — It was one of those events that offered a reminder how much has changed during 2020.
One of those events, too, that demonstrated how large public gatherings, temporarily lost to restrictions related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, can offer so much.
In what’s likely to be its venue for home games to be played in front of no fans this upcoming season, the Siena men’s basketball program accepted Thursday the 2020 Autism Action Award from Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, inside the Alumni Recreation Center on the Saints’ campus. The bestowing of that award stemmed largely from Siena hosting last December its second annual “Sensory Friendly and Autism Awareness Game,” a contest in which accommodations are made at the program’s normal home Times Union Center to offer a more sensory-friendly experience.
More than 6,000 fans poured into the arena to watch the Saints beat Holy Cross that day.
It was originally supposed to take place at the New York State Capitol back in April, but needed to be delayed — and moved to the Saints’ campus — because of continued restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic that has upended so much of everyday life.
So Thursday’s ceremony took place inside the ARC, with all participants and observers wearing masks and staying distanced when possible. It made for an unusual environment in which to accept an award or to celebrate anything.
But Santabarbara, joined by his teenage son Michael who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3, said it was important to do just that, regardless of the odd circumstances.
“We wanted to present this award,” said Santabarbara, “because we can’t let work like this go unnoticed.”
Siena’s first sensory-friendly game, Santabarbara explained, was the first live sporting event his son Michael was able to attend. The regular environment at a college basketball game amounts to “sensory overload,” but making a few modifications such as dimming lights and lowering the volume of music played in the arena allowed for more people to be included in the festivities.
“That’s meaningful,” said Santabarbara, who represents the 111th district and serves as the chair of the State Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders. “That inspires others; to show, ‘Hey, we can include more people by doing little things — little, simple things.’”
“I think inclusion is something that Siena has always stood for, and will continue to stand for,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “To be the recipient of this Autism Action Award, I think it’s a great day not only for Siena College, but our basketball team. For me, as a leader of this program, it’s very important that these guys realize the impact they have every single day in our community and on our campus.”
Besides Maciariello for the Siena program, players Manny Camper, Jordan King and Jalen Pickett accepted the award, which Santabarbara’s son presented. Maciariello, in turn, offered a Siena basketball to Michael, who Santabarbara said enjoys shooting hoops at home especially after watching the Saints play in person.
Like all Division I programs around the country, Siena received word Wednesday that it could start its 2020-21 season on Nov. 25. The day before, though, the MAAC — Siena’s conference — announced that no fans will attend any of its games through Dec. 23, at least. That means Siena will likely play its home games inside the ARC rather than Times Union Center, and it means events meant to bring people together will need to take on a new look.
Maciariello said the Saints plan to do their part to make sure they continue to connect with their community, even as the way to do that will shift to involve Zoom calls and other measures.
“I’m all for doing whatever it takes to help our fans,” Maciariello said, “and to show how much we care about this program here and our fans.”
REVAMPING THE SCHEDULE
With Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s announcements, Maciariello has a solid amount of work to do in terms of reconfiguring the Saints’ non-conference schedule.
As in, he pretty much has to redo it.
“Constant motion,” Maciariello said to describe the 24 hours or so following the NCAA pushing the season’s start from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25.
Siena’s “original” schedule was never unveiled, but the Saints were looking at a regular season with 30-plus games. Besides the 20 games the Saints will play as part of their MAAC schedule, Maciariello said Thursday he wants to play as close as possible to the maximum of 27 games the NCAA will allow this upcoming season.
Maciariello mentioned keeping games against Army, Holy Cross, St. Bonaventure and Bucknell on the Saints’ schedule as a top priority, but also wants to get the Saints into a multiple-team event — in which the Saints would play three games — to replace the games Siena lost because it “can’t play” in the Orlando Invitational it was scheduled to participate in this year.
Previously, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said the need to quarantine for 14 days following a potential trip to Florida — which is on New York’s travel advisory list — left the Saints in a position in which “that decision has kind of been made for us,” in terms of needing to back out of the Orlando Invitational that includes powerhouses such as Gonzaga and Michigan State.
Siena has been rumored to take part in some type of “bubble” event at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. One way or another, Maciariello said he wants the Saints to get a game or two during the non-conference season against power-conference foes.
“We’ll see if we can come up with a solution where we can maybe play a couple games that would challenge us like that,” Maciariello said.