After switching to an independent schedule to combat injuries and match up with teams of equal size, the Paul D. Schreiber High School football team finished its season with no concussions and no major injuries.
Stephanie Joannon, director of health, physical education and athletics for the Port Washington School District, called the season an “absolute success.”
“The biggest factor for us,” she said, “was that there were no injuries and we were competitive in every single game. Yes, we went 1-5, but there wasn’t one game we were completely out of. At halftime, for every game, we weren’t down by more than a touchdown.”
During the 2015 season, six Port Washington players suffered concussions, the most in Nassau County, and seven starters were sidelined by injuries. The Vikings started with 35 players and finished with 23, and the team recorded 57 missed practices, Joannon said.
This year the Vikings started the season with 32 players and went into the final game with 28, Joannon said.
The four players who missed the last game where “banged up” from the game before and didn’t sustain any major injuries, she said.
Because conference placement is based on school enrollment, Port Washington had been in Section VIII’s Conference 1, for schools with the largest enrollments.
But Port Washington had significantly fewer players compared with other schools in Conference 1, Joannon said.
After appealing its conference placement over the summer to the Football Council, the Nassau County Athletic Council and the Nassau County Superintendents Council, the district was offered relief in its schedule and would have face lower-ranked teams. Instead, Port Washington decided to play an independent schedule.
With the recent awareness of the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., discovered in over 80 former NFL players, Port Washington didn’t take its seven concussions lightly, Joannon said.
In 2015, only nine of the 32 teams in the NFL had more than seven concussions.
A Virginia Tech study that tested and evaluated the durability of football helmets and ranked them on a scale of one star to five stars has prompted high schools to invest in better helmets.
Joannon said Port Washington purchases new five-star helmets every year to provide students with the safest helmets.
Each helmet costs around $230, Joannon said, but the cost has never interfered with the safety of the players.
“We replenish our helmets every year,” she said. “We have five-star helmets and we throw out any that are damaged and purchase new ones to keep all of our players safe.”
“Playing an independent schedule really worked out for us, and everyone was behind it, because it was either play independent or don’t play football,” Joannon said. “The kids had more fun because they knew they would be in every game this year.’’
Conference placement has been an ongoing issue on Long Island and has affected other programs as well.
Port Washington has appealed its conference placement seven years in a row, Joannon said.
During the 2012 season, other schools appealed their conference placement, too, spurring the establishment of a developmental conference — Conference 5 — for teams with fewer players on their rosters.
The league lasted only two years, but the Vikings had a 14-2 record.
“We were very successful in Conference 5 because we were playing teams like us,” Joannon said in August. “Teams that struggled because of the amount of students participating in the football program. It was a fair conference.”
In the two season after the discontinuance of Conference 5, the Vikings went 3-15, and were outscored by opponents 291 to 51 during the 2015 season.
Carrying 32 players on its roster this year, Port Washington never played a team with more than 35 players, Joannon said.
“It was a big difference, and our players went into every game knowing they had a good chance of winning, unlike last year,’’ she said.
The Vikings’ only win came in a 22-0 contest against Peekskill High School, a public school in upstate New York.
In addition to their game against Peekskill, the Vikings’ independent schedule allowed them to travel off Long Island to play schools around New York, including Tappan Zee High School and Pelham Memorial High School.
Joannon praised the Vikings’ first-year coach, Adam Hovorka, for handling the unusual schedule and situation well.
“He did such a great job,” Joannon said. “I really think he inspired the players and motivated them to play football. He went in with an attitude of ‘we do the best we can and we’ll have a good season.’ He was very focused on team preparation and was able to get the team to strive for good results and he never quit.”
From the beginning of the season, Joannon said, it wasn’t about winning games; it was about being competitive.
“The competitiveness we showed was great for us,” she said. “I think this entire season was a great display for the future. We’re hoping that it brings in more players to the football program.”