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Football: No. 4 Delbarton vs. No. 5 Bergen Catholic canceled by COVID just before kick-off

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The crowds and noise were gone from William Regan Field on Saturday.

All that was left was a group of Delbarton seniors, who had returned to the field and stood by the midfield logo as they tried to digest how their season and high school career had ended in minutes.

It still hasn’t started, all of that has happened, said one of those seniors, Gary Lewis. It’s just unreal.

They had warmed up on the pitch just a while earlier, along with their Bergen Catholic opponent, ready for a big football game between two of New Jersey’s top five teams.

Bergen Catholic sprinted onto the field a few minutes before the scheduled 1:00 p.m. kick-off, intended to start a race billed as a state semi-final match.

Then the unthinkable unfolded. The match was canceled.

The coaches, Delbarton’s Brian Bowers and Bergen Catholics Vito Campanile, met officials three minutes before the scheduled kickoff for Bergen’s Catholic sideline.

A negative result for a rapid test on Delbarton’s end eventually turned positive as a result of a PCR (or more rigorous) test. Officials were notified of a positive COVID-19 test, forcing teams to retreat to their respective tents to determine how the game would go.

After a delay of 15 minutes, the news was delivered to both sides. Delbarton, who gathered in the corner by their tent opposite the scoreboard, was stunned.

Helmets hit the rubber track around the field in frustration. Tears began to come from players and coaches alike. Everyone, from the 25-man senior class to the parents in the stands, was stunned at what happened.

I have no words. I’m trying to process it. I … just can’t, said Bowers. I can’t really understand what just happened. I’m really sorry for everyone at this point. I am first of all sorry for my players and equally sorry for the Catholic players and coaches from Bergen. This was going to be a great game. I feel terrible it’s not happening.

That sentiment was spread throughout the stadium as the Delbarton players embraced, knowing their season was over when Bergen Catholic packed up his belongings and went back to the bus to return to Oradell.

I find it really heartbreaking, said Catholic coach Vito Campanile from Bergen. You spend more than 1,000 hours of your life annually and get cheated out of it after you walk out the gate? It is not good for anyone.

There are so many opportunities you can get. This is probably the most extreme I’ve seen. I don’t understand how this happened.

In a statement released later Saturday, the Athletics agency Delbarton said that a member of the soccer team tested positive for COVID-19 and, to protect the safety of players and coaches of both the Delbarton and Bergen Catholic teams, and according to the guidelines of Delbarton School Nurse Deirdre McAuliffe and the Morris Township Board of Health, we made the decision to cancel today’s game.

That group of Delbarton seniors who returned later in the day described how shocked they were and how unreal the moment was. That the fact that their season was over hadn’t quite started yet.

They were eventually joined by some of the Delbarton coaching staff when, an hour and a half after the scheduled kick-off, the Green Wave started running routes and threw the ball to each other for the final time.

Even in the face of absolute chaos and uncertainty, Delbarton still found time to play a football game on Saturday.

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