By Bill Riccio, Jr.
All eyes in the state’s high school sports world are looking to Cheshire this week. At stake is the fate of the fall sports season. In a story with few straight lines and meandering narratives, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Executive Director Glenn Lungarini is to meet with officials of the Dept. of Public Health to discuss whether there should be high school sports in the coming weeks.
In a city like West Haven, where high school athletics play a big role in the culture of the community, the lack of a basketball and hockey tournament in March, and no spring sports made the pandemic not only more real, but more painful. There was nothing to dull the monotony, either for the parents or the kids, be they athletes or not. There were no extra-curriculars at all.
Just to recap. There was a real hope when summer rolled around that the Wuhan Virus pandemic would be about over. That hasn’t happened. Over the summer, school officials had to wrestle with what to do about reopening schools. They’ve been closed to in-person lessons since March, and it was believed the building could be open.
In recent weeks a series of possibilities has been proposed. Most school systems are opting for a hybrid in-school, distance-learning model, allowing those who wish to keep their children home to do so. The question then came what to do with fall sports.
This writer has a stake in the outcome as I am the assigning commissioner for the Vincent J. Reilly-New Haven Football Officials Association and the state’s rules interpreter. We are part of the discussions insofar as we have to know what the schedules are, when they are to be played, and/or whether we should plan for a season at all.
Two weeks ago, I ran a webinar for officials and one for the state’s coaches on the new rules in high school football for 2020. Usually, we have a state clinic, but that had to be shelved because of COVID concerns.
We took hope in the CIAC’s decision to have an abbreviated season, and were planning to begin training and meeting with officials. But throughout the last few weeks the elephant in the room has been whether there will be a season at all. It was there big as life, but we all tried to act otherwise.
As the weeks dwindled to days toward school opening, the fact the state hasn’t opened up completely, and plans have not really been finalized as far as building use, other alternatives were floated. The CIAC’s Football Committee, voted early last week to move the season to the spring.
The plan floated around was having winter sports wait until the new year to begin, with the season taking place in January and February. Fall sports would be played in March and April, and spring sports in May and June. That is a packed six months!
The CIAC Board of Control voted, instead, to keep its original plan of beginning the season on Sept. 24, and finishing on Oct. 30. Football would play a 6-7-game schedule, with other sports playing 12 or so games.
Then came the letter from the DPH, last week. It rejected the timetable voted on by the Board of Control, and supported the move to spring. But it went further. It wanted no practices until school opened, with a two-week buffer between the opening of school and the opening of practice. In other words, 14 days after school opens, practices can begin.
Football and Volleyball were specified as sports that should be eliminated this year or moved to the spring.
A meeting between Lungarini and CIAC officials is planned for this week with the DPH, and by this writing some accommodation might be reached, or the season might be moved.
Having said that, there is reason to be pessimistic about fall sports returning in the next few weeks:
- Schools are unsure as to what they will happen when the scholastic year opens. Do officials really need the added headaches of worrying about sports?
- Prep schools have shut down their fall programs, it makes the possibility of public schools allowing sports more remote.
- The constant contact of football is a worry in times of contagion, and there is no way to limit that contact.
- How do you have practices with the possibility of hybrid in-school, distance learning?
Over the next several days, the options will be mulled over by the CIAC and health officials. Everything is on hold. Scheduling is not ready, teams are not practicing.
If the fall season does, in fact, get off the starting blocks, it will be a continuation of a strange time, and a strange year.
Safety is the primary concern, and nothing will happen if there is the possibility of danger to the student-athletes. Given the uncertainty of the situation and the general feeling of the public, the best that can be hoped is the fall season is moved. But even that might be too much to expect.