Concussions drive Port football team out of conference

Concussions drive Port football team out of conference

The Paul D. Schreiber High School football team will play an independent schedule this season after opting to leave the New York State Public High School Athletic Association for competitive and safety reasons.

Stephanie Joannon, director of health, physical education and athletics for the Port Washington School District, disclosed the change.  

The school was in Conference 1, for schools with the largest enrollments, in Section VIII of the association.

Port Washington appealed its conference placement to the Football Council, the Nassau County Athletic Council and the Nassau County Superintendents Council, seeking relief after facing safety issues last year, competing against teams that carry more players.

Last season, six Schreiber players suffered concussions, the most in the Nassau County, according to Joannon. 

After starting the season with 35 players, the Vikings finished with 23 players. Joannon said that there were 57 missed practices last year due to injuries, and seven starters finished the season injured. 

Football conferences in Nassau County are based on enrollment, and because Schreiber High School has 1,500 students, it played in the highest conference. 

But Joannon said the school’s enrollment isn’t indicative of the number of students participating in the football program.

“We were asked to stay one more year, but we couldn’t,” Joannon said. “We couldn’t put our kids back in that situation, having less kids on the sidelines than other teams, and risk the same medical problems. Not after six concussions and 57 missed practices.”

During the appeals process, the councils offered relief to Port Washington, issuing it the No. 14 seed out of 14, and arranging the schedule so it would play the No. 13 seed, No. 12 seed and No. 10 seed twice with an additional two games, according to Nina Van Erk, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Section VIII.

In the past two seasons in Conference 1, Port Washington finished 3-15, and were outscored by opponents 291 to 51 last season. 

Port Washington’s football program, Joannon said, doesn’t have enough players to compete against schools that are carrying more players on their rosters. Joannon said that on average, bigger Conference 1 programs carry around 55 to 60 players.

Because Port Washington’s roster isn’t as deep as other schools’ rosters, Joannon said, more players are forced to play both offense and defense, making them more susceptible to injury. 

“We discussed this decision on different levels,” Joannon said, “and everyone was still concerned. It’s not because of our record, but instead because we’re being outscored by so much and that we’re left with 23 players on the sidelines after starting with 35.”

In the last seven years, Port Washington has appealed its conference placement seven times, Joannon said. 

During the 2012-13 season, other teams appealed conference placement, too, so a developmental conference — Conference 5 — was established, but it  lasted only two years.

In its two years in Conference 5, Port Washington played to a 14-2 record.

“We were very successful in Conference 5 because we were playing teams like us,” Joannon said. “Teams that struggled because of the amount of students participating in the football program. It was a fair conference.”

When the program decided to not play in Conference 1, Joannon said, the school was faced with three options: eliminating football entirely, ending the varsity program or playing an independent schedule.

“At first, I met with our superintendent, Dr. Kathleen Mooney, and she was awesome about the entire situation,” Joannon said. “She understood where we were coming from completely. She was always on our side.”

Joannon said she held a meeting with interested parents of current and past players to discuss the future of the football program. The consensus, Joannon said, was that everyone wanted to play football this year.

“Around 98 percent of the people who attended the meeting said playing in Conference 1 was a bad idea — they said it wasn’t safe,’’ she said. “But, ultimately, they wanted to play football, so we went forward with the independent schedule.’’ 

Because Nassau County and Suffolk County schools’ schedules are maxed out, Joannon said, she reached out to private schools on Long Island and in Westchester.

“The private schools I reached out to understood our situation,” she said. “We’ll get to have a unique experience.”

So far, Port Washington has a five-game schedule planned, and Joannon said she’s looking for two more games.

“I think playing an independent schedule is a great opportunity for everyone,” said the recently hired head coach, Adam Hovorka. “It’s special that we’ll be traveling off of Long Island.” 

The team will be traveling to games in coach buses, and will open up the season on Sept. 10 at home against Pelham Memorial High School. 

Then it will face  Long Island Lutheran High School, Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, and Gorton High School in Yonkers.

“At this point, after everything we’ve been through, we’re just happy to be playing football this season,” Joannon said. “The kids are very excited.”

Although Port Washington is playing an independent schedule, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will be providing officials, Van Erk said.

“Port Washington is a long-time member that’s always been in good standing with us,” Van Erk said.

The superintendents council is looking further into the issue, Mooney said, because Port Washington isn’t the only school concerned about conference alignment. 

“It was really in the best interest of our students to go to an independent schedule,” Mooney said. “We had to go to what would benefit us from a safety standpoint. The councils will look into it, but it’s good we’ll be playing this year.’’ 

By Stephen Romano

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