Christina Keys, a science teacher and Kilties kickline team coach, could not recall a time when students played any sport but football at homecoming.
But this year was different, she said, with Great Neck North High School embracing the girls varsity volleyball team for the homecoming game on Saturday after the football game was canceled. Parents and students crowded seven rows of bleachers, cheering on the home team.
The football team, which combined players from Great Neck North and Great Neck South high schools, was originally slated to play at 2 p.m. against Sewanhaka.
But the schools determined last Tuesday that they only had 16 eligible varsity players, three shy of New York state requirements, meaning they couldn’t play and had to forfeit the last two games, ending the season prematurely.
“We didn’t have enough boys where we could switch them in and out and what was happening was boys were getting hurt and it was becoming unsafe,” Keys said. “So what they did, which was actually a really great opportunity for our school, we were able to represent women in homecoming for the first time.”
“People are so used to having football, so it was a good change,” a kickliner sitting nearby added. “And the fact that a lot of people still came out was good for our school.”
The fourth of five matches against Bethpage High School was a turning point for Great Neck North, which came back from a 24-20 deficit to take the match with 25 points. Great Neck North then claimed victory in the fifth match, which marked the girls’ seventh win this season and pushed them closer to the Conference A3 playoffs, according to Eamonn Flood, the athletic director for Great Neck North High School.
“It was one of the best homecoming games I’ve ever been to,” Flood said.
But it also marked the end for this year’s football season, Flood said.
“Unfortunately we had to cancel the game and ultimately cancel the season,” he said.
In a previous interview David Zewatson, the director of the Great Neck Public Schools’ Department of Recreation, noted that small football rosters made it “not uncommon” for them to have to forfeit because of a lack of players.
Great Neck combined the North and South’s football teams to try to reduce the risk of students getting hurt, whether it was from overwork or needing students to play in unfamiliar positions, Zewatson said.
“It’s not really a game where you can afford to be thinking too much during the course of play,” Zewatson said at the time.
The Great Neck North girls volleyball team’s next games are away at Hewlett on Oct. 27 and at Elmont Oct. 31.