By Mike Zummo
The Wallkill gymnastics team went from almost not having a season in 2019-20 to hoisting the Section 9 championship plaque when the season ended in February 2020.
Then a month later came the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down sports a month later and it has taken 10 months for sports in Section 9 to get moving again. Now, the Wallkill gymnastics team was one of three programs to open their preseason last week and the Panthers are happy to have a season.
“They’re loving it,” new head coach LeeAnn Pazoga said. “I do have three club kids, but the other eight are just happy to be back in the gym. They’re happy to get some exercise and they’re just ecstatic.”
The Panthers lost two of their top gymnasts from last year. Miah Frisbee graduated, and Gabriella Castro didn’t return to Wallkill this year. However, the other half off the state meet contingent from last year – sophomore Chloe Quattrochi and freshman Rachel Vassell will return to this year’s team.
Pazoga said newcomer freshman Marlee McCullough is expected to be a standout.
“We’re just happy to be able to get back in the gym and getting a few meets in,” Pazoga said.
Only a few, as only Wallkill, Kingston, New Paltz and FDR are competing this year.
The Panthers are schedule to host FDR on Feb. 18 at Ziggy’s Gymnastics in Middletown, and a Section 9 championship meet is scheduled for Feb. 20 at Ziggy’s. Pazoga said there is a tentative Feb. 10 meet, but right now the league is searching for judges.
While other sports that compete indoors are competing virtually, the gymnastics teams will compete in the same facility against one another. However, due to the pandemic, the Panthers are practicing at Ziggy’s, which will also host the Panthers’ home meet. Normally they compete at Ostrander Elementary School.
“Due to COVID and the intensity of the cleaning, it was a better decision to go to a private gym,” Pazoga said.
The athletes will have to follow a strict COVID protocol. They will have to wear their masks and maintain social distancing. The equipment also will be cleaned regularly. Also, one of the changes in practice is the athletes will work on one event per day, which will help minimize the cleaning.
“But if they do switch the event, they’ll have to hand sanitize,” Pazoga said. “Ziggy’s takes care of the mats.”
The athletes will have to fill out an attestation form every day stating that they don’t have a fever and haven’t been in contact with anyone COVID-positive. Their temperatures will be checked and if they are below 100 degrees, they can get on the bus to go to Ziggy’s.
Then, once they get to Ziggy’s, they do it again.
Another change is there won’t be any spectators during meets and gyms are working with the schools to possibly due virtual viewings for parents.
“I would just love to see them compete because even the private clubs are not competing,” Pazoga said. “The girls don’t have any meets, even if they’re club gymnasts. This season is in such a horrible time, to bring any sense of joy to these kids is our goal.”