September 16, 2020

Getting the Go-Ahead from BOE For Fall Season, PHS Coaches, Players Excited for the Opportunity

GAME ON: Members of the Princeton High girls’ soccer team go through a training session before the 2019 season. Last week, the PHS athletes and coaches got the go-ahead from the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) for a fall varsity season. The teams started preseason practices last Monday with games to begin during the week of September 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Val Rodriguez was on pins and needles as the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) met last week to decide whether fall sports could go ahead for Princeton High varsity teams with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing.

“I was doubtful, I have to be honest,” said Rodriguez, the head coach of the PHS girls’ soccer team, reflecting on the September 8 meeting. “I remained as hopeful as I could be.”

Tiger football head coach Charlie Gallagher shared the concerns of his colleague as the meeting unfolded.

“I was nervous, some of the Board members that had some concerns talked initially before any Board member that spoke in the affirmative,” said Gallagher, noting the PHS fall coaches had formed a task force and met over the summer to formulate return-to-play plans and protocols along with Director of Athletics Brian Dzbenski.

“I think there were several Board members who said they weren’t going to vote for it.”

In the end, though, the BOE voted 7-3 to give the go-ahead for a varsity-only fall season.

The PHS coaches and their players were heartened to get the green light for a 2020 campaign, which will feature regular season games beginning the week of September 28.

“They are so excited, they have been waiting for this,” said Rodriguez, describing the reaction of her squad.

“We have a good group of senior girls that are just hard workers who didn’t want to be stripped of their senior season. Many of them are not playing college soccer so it is great for them. They are super thrilled.”

Gallagher, for his part, tipped his hat to the Board and vowed to make things work. 

“The players were ecstatic, I think we all were a little apprehensive,” added Gallagher.

“I do appreciate the fact that we didn’t get a no early on. Our Board is giving us a chance. We will definitely seize the opportunity and do everything possible to be safe.”

With fall practices starting on September 14, PHS AD Dzbenski held a webinar last Sunday evening to go over the procedures and protocols to help prepare players, coaches, parents, and staff for the season ahead.

Dzbenski was joined by the fall coaches, Head Athletic Trainer Shannon Koch, Head Athletic Nurse Lisa Goldsmith, PHS Principal Jessica Baxter, and district medical personnel as he summarized some of the key links included on the PHS Varsity Fall Sports COVID-19 Info Site.

The site includes detailed guidance on such topics as health screening procedures, mask wearing do’s and don’ts, athletic equipment needs, expectations for athletes, expectations for coaches, pick-up and drop-off procedures, home and away games, bus transportation, and the plan of action if a participant contracts COVID-19, among other things.

The virtual session on Sunday drew more than 300 participants and lasted approximately an hour and included an extended question and answer session.

Looking ahead to the first practice, Rodriguez is confident that her players will hit the ground running.

“I Zoomed every week or every other week with the team,” said Rodriguez.

“They were getting on it as much as they could. Everybody has been active all summer on the club level. Hopefully on Monday, we can go full motion and go right into it.”

As for the football team, Gallagher is seeing strong interest but knows he can’t rush things and will carefully gauge the conditioning of his players at the outset.   

“We have a good number of kids, we have close to 40 guys registered right now,” said Gallagher, noting that football has a no-contact rule for the first five days of practice.

“Considering COVID, we thought a lot of people would pull out and not be part of it. Initially registration is always slow. People were waiting around a little bit too so we got a few late registrations once they said we were a go. Some of the kids are probably physically out of shape right now. We are going to take a long look at that when we start practice. We have got to get them out and see what they look like.”

While things are going to look different this fall with the COVID procedures and protocols, Gallagher and his fellow coaches are determined to make sure that the BOE doesn’t regret its decision to let them play.

“We are indebted and we appreciate it,” said Gallagher. “We don’t want to let the Board down, we don’t want to let the district down, and we don’t want to let the community down. As far as the coaching staff of all fall sports, we are all going to try to do our very best.”