On Saturday afternoon, as Winter Storm Jonas was pummeling New York City with a near-record 26 inches of snow, the city went into lockdown mode, by mayoral decree. With the exception of a handful of subway lines, all city transportation—car, bus, bike, horse carriage—was suspended.
But in Fort Greene, local college rivals LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis tipped off at noon in the first game of a rescheduled—but not cancelled—doubleheader that included the schools’ annual “Battle of Brooklyn” contest.
The Terrier women’s squad won the first game 71-51, and visiting St. Francis completed the doubleheader sweep, retaining local bragging rights, when its men’s team won 64-49.
This day, though, it was the weather, not the games, that was the story.
A small number of fans—along with support staff from both schools—defied Mayor Bill de Blasio and traveled to LIU’s Steinberg Wellness Center to cheer on these Northeast Conference rivals located ten blocks apart, even though leaving home was not required. ESPN 3 broadcast both games online. Those few hardy souls who braved the storm had their reasons for attending.
“You gotta come out in the snow no matter what,” said Glenn Starkey of Woodhaven, Queens, who said he is a friend of Stephanie Oliver, head coach for the LIU women’s team.
Wearing a white t-shirt with a Blackbirds logo as well as a ski cap, Starkey acknowledged the impact of the weather on his travel plans. “I might have to leave early because [the MTA] may be terminating the subways.”
He stayed long enough to see an undermanned Blackbird squad—only six LIU players dressed for the game—fade in the second half.
“They’ve only got six players. What do you expect?” Starkey muttered.
Bob Dea, a long-time Blackbird fan, came from Queens to photograph the games, a practice he has engaged in for years.
“My train [R subway] is running underground so at this point I’m pretty safe,” said Dea, referencing an MTA online status report. If the subway system were to shut down completely, Dea said he would “start walking” home. Luckily, the second game—which tipped off at 3 p.m.—concluded before that occurred.
Following the Terrier women’s victory—their first NEC win in seven tries—St. Francis Athletic Director Irma Garcia admitted that it was indeed unusual to play when the rest of the city was cloistered due to the weather.
“In all the years I’ve been coaching and an administrator we never had [a situation] where everything was closed down and we were able to get a game in,” said Garcia, a St. Francis graduate (1980) who has been either a coach or administrator at the Brooklyn Heights college since 1988.
Even though the schools are located within walking distance, not all LIU and SFC staff live nearby. Garcia expressed concern about their collective safety. “As long as we get everybody home I’ll feel good about getting the games in,” she said.
Noreen Morris, Northeast Conference Commissioner, explained how the decision was made to play despite a severe snowstorm.
“With the two schools in such close proximity there was a mutual decision made between LIU Brooklyn, St. Francis Brooklyn and the Conference [Friday] to move up the game times based on the weather information we had at the time,” Morris said by email, referencing a switch to afternoon play rather than the original start times of 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“Staffers who cannot travel home due to road and MTA closures will be provided lodging for the night,” she added.
St. Francis’s Rob DeVita, a communications assistant, as well as SFC head coaches Glenn Braica (men’s team) and John Thurston (women’s team) were left stranded when above ground transportation was shut down. They spent last night at the Sheridan Hotel on Duffield Street, three blocks from LIU.
One question that loomed large was: why not postpone until another, less treacherous date?
Margaret Alaimo, LIU Brooklyn’s Deputy Director of Athletics, who did not attend the games because of the snow, expressed a common sentiment: the weather turned out to be far worse than expected.
“The storm was not expected to have as big an impact on the city as it ended up having,” Alaimo said via email. “Since our opponents were local, we didn’t anticipate a problem with them getting to LIU. The production crew for ESPN 3 came to town Friday, along with some of the officials,”
Undeterred by the elements were Jake Endres and his family, on hand because they love the Blackbirds and… it was better than staying cooped up inside.
“I’m a big fan of LIU and we were looking for ways to get out of our house on a snowy day,” said Endres, who was joined in the stands by his wife Christina Balboa and daughters Matilda (7), Fernanda and Carly (both 4). “We come whenever we can,” he added.
Including, it seems, a blizzard.