Back in Action
DOLGEVILLE — In this most unusual of years, it was almost fitting that the first Section II high school athletic competition since March took place in Section III.
With no golf course in St. Johnsville, Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville plays its home matches in Herkimer County, which is on the eastern end of Section III.
The Wolves hosted Fort Plain on Wednesday in a Western Athletic Conference match that began with temperature checks and health survey forms rather than handshakes.
The Hilltoppers posted a 8.5-6.5 win in a match played from the red tees, instead of the normal whites, and that saw only six holes count toward players’ scores.
Fort Plain’s Evan Crouse had the low round of the day with a 25 over six hole, while Brandon Hulten led OESJ with a 27.
It was the first competition to feature Section II teams since the coronavirus pandemic erased the boys and girls basketball, bowling and ice hockey state championships last winter, as well as the entire spring sports season.
“It was great to be part of the first athletic event,” OESJ head coach T.J. Jordan said. “I was really happy for the kids to get out there and play.”
Fort Plain coach John Fureno agreed with his counterpart.
“It’s actually pretty exciting to be part of the first athletic contest in Section 2, since all of this COVID-19 craziness has come into all of our lives seven months ago,” he said. “I didn’t realize that we were going to be the first athletic contest until coach Jordan from OESJ called me yesterday during practice to tell me that.”
With the fall season in doubt until early last week, WAC golf and cross country teams finally got the green light to begin practice on Monday.
With soccer teams sidelined until the Fall II season in March, OESJ picked up several players from the girls soccer team as well as an assistant coach. Anderson Eggleston, Sydney Schell, Carolyn Littrell and Madisyn Schell all opted to play golf after their soccer season was pushed back and they are joined by longtime OESJ girls soccer coach Zale Benton, who will assist Jordan.
Players from both sides have made quick adjustments to the new protocols that were put in place prior to the season.
“I feel that the golfers have adjusted extremely well to the new protocols. They’ve been very conscientious of everyone’s safety, personal space and understand how important this is for everybody, including other sports that are trying to get started in the weeks and months to come,” Fureno said. “They understand the importance of washing their hands and using hand sanitizer on a regular basis, as well as keeping their masks on while they are practicing and competing. Our golfers realize that if golf cannot succeed during this time, then they are taking away an opportunity for other student athletes in other sports that want to play.”
“My players have been great with the new protocols,” Jordan said. “The OESJ district has made safety a priority and with that being said it has transitioned well to golf. The players are good at it because it’s a clear plan.”
For the coaches, who are also both teachers, adjusting to the new way of doing things has been relatively smooth.
“As a coach, having to adjust to the new protocols hasn’t been very difficult at all. I have always viewed athletics as an extension of the classroom. I have to wear a mask most of the day in my classroom at school, therefore I don’t see any difference with doing the same thing on the golf course,” Fureno said. “Don’t get me wrong, it is different having to wear the masks all the time, but I’m a firm believer that if you want things to happen bad enough, you will do what it takes to make that happen. I have been a coach for almost 35 years now. and know that the athletes adjust to any situation, as long as they are guided and prepared the proper way and in a positive manner.”
“As a coach it has been easy. My district has been very good at staying one step ahead of protocols and relating them to me as a coach. My athletic director Travis Heiser has been great about communicating with me about team safety and guidelines,” Jordan said. “My team understand that everyone wants them to play so they have been very good about the protocols that have been put in place to make this year happen.”
On the course, every golfer on both teams finished with a round of 40 or better on the long-awaited return of competition to Section II.
Rob Rogers carded a 31 for Fort Plain, Owin Landry finished with a 36, Brady Keane had a 39 and Quinnlan Brown posted a 40.
Blake Bergan finished with a 33 for OESJ, Josie Brundage had a 37, Jesse Watson carded a 39, and David Doxtater and Eggleston each had rounds of 40.
Fureno said just being able to compete was a win for his team.
“I am very excited for all of the student athletes who have been given this great opportunity to be able to play sports during this difficult time,” he said. “I definitely want to thank the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the Section 2 Committee Members, our WAC League Representatives, our Fort Plain Administration, the Fort Plain Board of Education as well as our Athletic Coordinator, Charlie Karker, for allowing our student athletes to be able to take part in this great opportunity.”