Olean baseball field

High school baseball fields, like this one at Olean High School, could be empty for the foreseeable future with schools closed due to the spread of coronavirus.

Monday began a period without high school sports, as schools around the Southern Tier joined the many around the country shut down in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Schools made preparations for long closures, as students will learn from home at least into April. When, or if, schools in the area can reopen safely, resume sports practices and hold a spring season was a mystery to athletic directors.

“I don’t know,” Olean AD Steve Anastasia said Monday afternoon. “The health department just suggested a 30-day layoff, so the schools took it into their own hands and we are doing our own thing, but we as a district are done; no athletic activity until Monday, April 20. So we’re going to be shut down until then: Myrtle Beach trips over break are cancelled, we are not to travel. But I don’t know.”

Olean’s boys basketball team had its Far West Regional game against Geneva from Saturday postponed indefinitely before the school closings.

Anastasia was merely a week into practice in his first season as OHS softball coach. In the best-case scenario, he sees the only possible spring season being a short league schedule, followed by playoffs. And if schools can reopen in the spring, teams would need time to prepare for game action.

“WE DON’T want to throw pitchers out there getting hurt after not doing anything for a month and throwing seven innings,” he said. “So probably just a week to prepare, this is it. It’s this or nothing, I see. I’m not in charge of anything, but a week to prepare, map out a league schedule, play your league schedule and go into the playoffs. That’s all I see happening, if anything.”

Salamanca athletic director Rich Morton said he briefly reported to work Monday, but superintendent Robert Breidenstein instructed him to prepare to work from home.

“When I did get down there, I had to go down and see Bob and ask him what he wanted me to do,” Morton said. “He said, ‘Nothing. Go home, work from home, take whatever you need, so sports at this time aren’t really even being considered in anything, in terms of when that’s going to reinstate. I would guess that if it goes into April 20 or beyond, even if there is a chance that we are able to do anything, that they would probably postpone or cancel all non-league contests and have to play all league.”

AT ELLICOTTVILLE, teachers such as Dave McCann, also the ECS athletic director, are taking it “day-by-day” with the help of school administrators.

“They’ve got a lot on their plate right now with figuring out what to do during the closure of schools,” McCann said. “Really, I think athletics have taken a backseat to the safety and wellbeing of the kids in general and making sure we can get this under control. I’ve been communicating with the coaches almost every day, just trying to give them updates on anything I might see from the state or from the school itself. Right now it’s just wait and see and hopefully this thing gets under control here in the coming weeks and hopefully we can get a spring sports season in.”

McCann said he’s optimistic for the sake of the school’s senior athletes that a solution can be found before graduation. Ellicottville is closed until at least April 12.

“There wouldn’t be a lot of contests affected up to that point,” he said, “but obviously this is going to be a day-to-day situation here and we’ve got to do what’s best for the kids and what’s safe for the kids and the coaches and everyone involved — umpires, fans.”

Teams can’t meet for practice, formally or informally. But athletic directors think the students can work out safely while remaining at home.

“I sent a letter out to all our coaches this morning just stating that there can’t be any team activities, you can’t be on campus, you can’t really instruct anybody on your roster,” Anastasia said. “It’s just a shutdown. If kids want to go to tennis courts and hit by themselves, if they want to go to their pitching coach and pitch, that’s totally up to them. I can tell you my daughter, we’re still doing pitching lessons, we’re still working on pitching either at the house or with her coach in anticipation that we’re going to do something, but other than that, they’re basically on their own. And I heard today all fitness centers are going to be closed, so I don’t even know where you’re going to go work out.”

MORTON STRESSED that any home workouts be done safely in order to prevent spreading the virus.

“The whole point is keeping people away from each other to prevent the spread of this virus,” Morton said. “But I think if you use common sense and you’re a parent and my daughter or son wants to go down to the track where there’s nobody around and I want to keep my son or daughter in shape, that’s certainly up to the parent. But coaches can’t instruct kids to go out and work out. It’s a difficult situation, this is unprecedented, everything that’s going on.”

High school athletics, just like any level right now, are in limbo. While college athletics effectively ended for the semester, pro sports leagues like the NBA and NHL suspended the season.

“It’s very frustrating for all athletes of all levels who have lost the opportunity to win a national title, to win an NBA title, to win anything, and so at the high school level, certainly think about the teams that can’t go on to play the state high school basketball championships,” Morton said. “Obviously it’s very disappointing for everybody in terms of being able to continue with practices or meets. It’s very frustrating, but across the board they have to do what’s safe for the environment of the population of everybody. If you had somebody you knew that has the virus, then it hits home real quick whether or not somebody’s really worried about whether you’re playing baseball or not.

“I’m optimistic that some of the season can be salvaged if this can maybe come to a head and we can start the downward recovery of it, but it’s day at a time. I’m optimistic about it but will it really happen … it’s hard to say.”

Anastasia admitted he’s “not too optimistic” that the seasons can be held.

“We go from practice Friday to not even being able to get in to get your stuff that you left because you’re not allowed on the premises,” Anastasia said. “So I can’t see it. Everybody says it’s going to get worse before it gets better and it seems like every day they say something and it changes for the worse. It’s definitely unprecedented and we’ve just got to go with the flow.”

(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at swilson@oleantimesherald.com)