By Mike Zummo
Valley Central is expecting to have two new basketball coaches this winter, but whether there will be a season has become an open question in Montgomery.
Frank Nutt was appointed by the Board of Education to replace long-time coach Eric Bartle and Bill Michella will replace Randy Axtell at the helm of the girls’ program.
That is, if New York State will let them play.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association on Dec. 11 canceled all winter state championships and postponed all high-risk sports, including basketball until authorization is granted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“It’s disappointing to hear the finality of it, where in the past it’s been pushed back,” Nutt said. “Even though all we want to do is get better each day, it was a bummer to hear.”
The Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association had initially postponed the start of winter sports until Jan. 19, and for low- and moderate-risk sports (swimming and indoor track), that date still holds.
“I think the one thing we’ve learned this year is that arbitrary dates get thrown around and it’s almost like a false hope,” Nutt said.
Michella was informed of the state’s decision to cancel the state championships, meaning if any season happens, the most the Vikings could do was win a Section 9 championship. Michella was an assistant coach last year on a Vikings’ team that reached the Section 9 Class AA championship game last season.
The Vikings, who suffered a 54-43 loss to Monroe-Woodbury, with most of the starting lineup returning had eyes on a section championship.
“They’re disappointed and champing at the bit to get out there and play,” Michella said. “They’re playing AAU and travel soccer, but they want to play for their school. They’re really pressing to play. That’s for sure.”
Nutt isn’t concerned about the cancellation of the state championships. That only affects five teams (one in each class) per section. He’s focused on at least getting his team in the gym.
The most important thing is doing right by the athletes, and he’s not rushing until everything is approved.
In the meantime, he’s keeping his players engaged mostly through Zoom calls, and while they can’t work out in the gym, the message hasn’t changed.
“We’re keeping lines of communication open and talk about spending time with family,” Nutt said. “We’re talking about keeping grades up and making sure you’re the model student-athlete. I think it’s a little different because everyone was like, ‘the season’s here. Let’s get to work’ but we don’t know when the start is going to be.”
Michella has coached basketball for a long time and said he’s seen a lot. Like Nutt, who has been an assistant to Bartle, Michella has worked with Axtell for the past five years so the uncertainty is easier to navigate with a degree of familiarity.
“I’m very familiar with them and they’re familiar with me,” Michella said. “We’ve had outside meetings, distanced of course – and trying to keep things positive. We have to keep them focused.”
Nutt, meanwhile, has both played for Bartle and been his assistant. He doesn’t feel like its his first season as coach.
“Coach Bartle has been outstanding to me,” Nutt said. “I couldn’t have asked for better leadership and someone to show me how to run a program. His guidance has continued even through retirement. I’m still going to look to him for guidance and advice.”
Until then, all either can do is wait and see.