For high school athletes, team sports can offer a chance to make friends, improve their physical and mental health and, for some, earn a college scholarship. The opportunity to play also can provide motivation to go to school. But because of the pandemic, it's been nearly a year since city public school students have been allowed to play major team sports. NY1 education reporter Jillian Jorgensen has one student's story.
Just about every day, Johan Cires goes to Sunset Park to work out. These days, that means heading to a patch of green shoveled from the snow and ice.
“Get a hat, get a sweater and go out, put the work in,” he said.
Johan is a senior at Sunset Park High School, where he plays catcher on the varsity baseball team. Or, he did, until the city suspended public school sports programs last March because of the pandemic.
“When you’re stressed, you play baseball. When you’re happy, you play baseball. When you’re hungry you play baseball. When you want a future, you play baseball. It’s basically everything,” Johan said.
Johan sees baseball as part of his path to a better future. He hopes to play at Baruch College. But now that path is steeper for him and other student athletes across the city, who are missing valuable playing time due to the pandemic — in Johan's case, possibly for two straight seasons.
“It’s very frustrating because, you know, if the colleges don’t see you, they’re not going to give you a scholarship, and for all us players from a low-income community, it’s very tough,” he said.
City rules mean students can’t even meet for practices. Some with the means to do so hire private coaches, or play on travel teams, or hit the batting cages. Johan comes to a field covered in snow and strewn with trash, and trains himself.
“I watch Youtube videos, they help a lot. You see what they're doing, the drills, and you just come out here and do it,” he said.
He sprints across the small section of the field that’s free of snow. He makes due with found tools like traffic cones, until he can’t.
“What I would usually do without a baseball tee, I would put the baseball here,” he says, gesturing to the broken top of a traffic cone, “go against the gate, and take swings, until my arm falls off. But you know this one is broken, so there’s nothing to do.”
Whether Johan will play again in his Sunset Park uniform is up to Mayor Bill de Blasio; the governor has left it to localities to decide which sports can be played. In much of the state, play has resumed, or will soon. The mayor has said he hopes to announce a plan for student sports in a week or two.
Until then, students like Johan wait, and dream.
“Imagine just getting a scholarship to play baseball, while you get a college degree, prepare for life, and you’re doing the sport you love. That’s the dream,” he said.