For incoming high school fall athletes and coaches, the last month has already had all the twists, turns, and drama of an entire sports season.
The rollercoaster of a ride has included a plan to play, countered by a recommendation from the Connecticut DPH (Department of Public Health) to reevaluate ‘risky’ sports which putting a hold on any organized practicing, followed by a student athlete-led protest, and finally a decision to move forward with a modified version on the original plan to play.
The latest development is a victory for the athletes and those of us that value the importance of the mental and emotional well-being of our youth.
However, the sage seems far from over.
Last Thursday the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) announced that they would proceed with all fall sports including football and volleyball, which were in jeopardy after the recommendation from the DPH.
After a whirlwind of starts and stops, many athletes and coaches were already emotionally and psychologically drained before the official season had even begun.
It all started on July 31 when the CIAC released a ‘plan to play’ for this fall. CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini described the plan as “fluid” and said that details could change based on the state’s current health metrics regarding COVID-19.
In mid-August, the DPH categorized football as ‘high risk’ and labeled volleyball as ‘moderate risk’. This sparked debate and opened the possibility of reconfiguring the fall/winter/spring sports season format, like some neighboring states have done.
Some suggested that football could change to 7-ON-7, which would basically eliminate any contact from a game built on contact.
The proposal angered many coaches and players because it disregards many important aspects, including linemen, and is the equivalent of turning a basketball game into a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Stafford/Somers/East Windsor head football coach Brian Mazzone summed it up perfectly in a post on social media, saying, “I hate 7 on 7 Football more than anything on earth.”
Volleyball is the only fall sport that is played inside a gymnasium, so there were discussions of moving the sport to the great outdoors. The logistics were impractical, and it was eventually deemed unreasonable to move matches to a parking lot or field, or possibly to a beach.
Over the past several months the CIAC has dealt with several difficult decisions, two of which have prompted protests from student athletes. The first was in March when high school sports were shut down in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and the second was on Aug. 20 after the CIAC paused practices until further conversations with the DPH to work out the details on how to proceed with the season.
Both protests took place outside the CIAC headquarters in Cheshire and allowed athletes a chance to make a plea for playing sports.
The latest protest was organized and led by Southington quarterback Brady Lafferty, who was one of several players to give heartfelt speeches in front of the headquarters. Lungarini warmly greeted the athletes and agreed that the student deserved an opportunity to have their voices heard.
A week after the latest protest, the CIAC released the latest plan to schools.
“Our plan will be fluid. It will change as the information changes, as the metrics change, and we will continue to monitor that information from our offices,” Lungarini said on Aug 27.
The new plan will restrict all fall sports (cross country, swimming, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and football) to low risk conditioning and non-contact sport specific skill work, in cohorts no larger than 10, through September 20, 2020.
On September 21, two weeks after most schools are in session, the CIAC believes it will have enough COVID data to determine whether the return to on-campus instruction have impacted extracurricular offerings.
At that time, a decision on returning to full team practices and competitive play will be made.
Lungarini stated that, as of now, the metrics in Connecticut have supported playing sports, but the CIAC will continue to monitor the number closely.
“We want it very clear that we are listening to the recommendations from the Department of Health. We are aligning in many ways with the recommendations of the Department of Health and we still have some questions in some areas as we move forward.”
The latest decision provides hope to all fall sports athletes, including the football athletes and coaches that saw their seasons hanging on by a thread, especially after the CIAC announced that any sport unable to play would be cancelled rather than moved to later in the school year.
Football still may have the biggest hurdle to overcome, but during his presser Lungarini made a valid point regarding fall’s only high-risk sport.
“Football, unlike any other sport that we have in Connecticut, is unique because there really isn’t that club or AAU experience for kids. The opportunity that they have to perform in 11v11 in the recruiting process for colleges really are confined to the high school sports season. And so, if we can give the kids that opportunity from that experience, more than any other sport, this may be the only opportunity that they have. And if we can provide that now, when the metrics are good and would suggest supporting that, that’s when we feel the best opportunity may be. As we move into the winter and spring, it’s anticipated that there will be an uptick in the COVID metrics. Now may be the only opportunity to provide kids this experience.”
So, for now, sports are on.
Universally athletes and coaches have cautiously praised the decision and it is now up to them to take the ball and run with it.
With the latest decision, the teams have a chance to show the state that sports do matter.
Wethersfield football coach Matt McKinnon voiced the collective feeling of most athletes and coaches when he posted a message on Twitter following the CIAC latest decision, “THANK YOU!! Regardless of what team you play for, every fall athlete get after it this season! You deserve it after what you all been though!”
The mantra for athletes and coaches since last March has been---if we can have school, we can have sports.
School has started and, if all goes well, games will start Oct 1.
We should all be rooting for that.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin