On Friday, the Connecticut high school sports community went online in large numbers to find an update on the status of fall athletics. After working in committees for the last few months, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference put out an 11-page plan that allows schools to return to action in all sports despite the ongoing pandemic.
All teams will play fewer games, closer to home, under the plan. Football teams will be limited to six games, with no Thanksgiving contests.
The CIAC also wants schools to come up with a COVID-19 Advisory Committee to address health and safety issues.
“I think it is a good plan to give our athletes a chance to play a fall sports season,” said Wilcox Athletic Director Steve Wodarski. “The CIAC and all the committees have done a lot of work to prepare for the season.”
The CIAC emphasized a gradual increase in participation. This summer, teams have been allowed to have a limited number of athletes work in conditioning cohorts.
In the new plan, programs will be able to start skill work in cohorts of 15 on Aug. 27. The three-week conditioning plan will add full-team contact practices beginning Sept. 11. Regular season games can start on Sept. 24 and run through Oct. 30.
“I like the idea of cohorts of 15 to allow coaches to develop teams,” said Cheshire High School Athletic Director Steve Trifone. “As long as everybody practices social distancing guidelines, I think it can work.”
Practice time will increase to a maximum of two hours per session. While feeling that the CIAC has done a good job gradually building the conditioning hours, Platt High School Athletic Director Rich Katz has reservations about the football contact time being limited to 10 minutes per athlete in practice.
“I think the amount of contact time is unsafe and deficient,” said Katz. “I don’t see how you can keep to that (guideline).”
Katz would have preferred the CIAC flip the fall and spring sports seasons.
“You are seeing how spring sports like baseball, softball, and tennis can be played safely this summer. The crowds are very large for football, while they are smaller in the spring,” explained Katz. “If this is the plan, we’ll make it work.”
In the CIAC guidelines, cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls’ swimming and diving, and volleyball teams will be allowed to play 12 regular-season games, while football teams are being limited to six. Football programs can play once per week, while the other sports will be allowed to compete twice.
Cheerleaders are asked to stick to sideline cheers and not perform stunts.
If postseason tournaments can be run safely, contests will run from Oct. 29 through Nov. 15.
With the condensed schedule, there will be no football played during Thanksgiving week.
Trifone said that he has spoken with Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser about playing their rivalry game in the regular season. Wodarski added that he will try to schedule a powder puff game for the girls at Wilcox Tech.
This fall, all schools are asked to come up with a regional schedule between just CIAC programs. On Monday, league directors are getting together to talk about new schedules.
Regional play was chosen to limit and mitigate the possible spread of the coronavirus.
“I understand the reasoning behind it, but with a tech school, it is going to be hard for us to compete with teams like Platt and Maloney,” said Wodarski. “We are going to have to look for other tech schools.”
For fan attendance, the CIAC is giving school districts the opportunity to make a plan for their venues and follow guidance from the state of Connecticut on gatherings.
“We are going to try to have equality as a league (Southern Connecticut Conference),” said Trifone.
“Both swimming and diving and volleyball will most likely have no fans since they are indoors. Coaches, media, and administrators will be allowed inside.”
Cheshire High School has installed cameras on Alumni Field and in the gyms, so that people can watch the games over the National Federation of High Schools Sports Network.
“We have to figure out a number of people for outdoor events,” stated Trifone.
“We don’t want the crowd to shut down the contest.”
At practices and games, coaches and athletes are being asked to self screen themselves for signs of an illness.
“We will go over a health checklist and protocols,” said Wodarski.
“The safety element is key. I wouldn’t compromise that and neither would the CIAC.”
School officials expect that more virus guidelines will be come later.
“It is a very fluid situation,” said Wodarski. “I can see it changing if something happens.”