It has been 10 months since Cheshire High School winter athletes last had the opportunity to practice and compete alongside each other. While the coronavirus pandemic has extended into 2021, there are now signs pointing to a return to action.
In an email sent to state athletic directors on Monday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference attached favorable recommendations from the Connecticut Department of Public Health. In the packet, DPH is supporting the current CIAC plan of letting low- to moderate- risk winter sports teams start practice as early as Tuesday, Jan. 19 and hold contests as soon as Monday, Feb. 1.
In a press conference on Monday, Governor Ned Lamont also said that youth sports can resume play on Jan. 19. Due to rising COVID-19 numbers, athletics had been put on pause in November of last year.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. Everything looks positive right now,” said CHS Athletic Director Steve Trifone. “I think we would all like a final answer at this point, but moving forward safely is the most important thing.”
In a statement, the CIAC thanked DPH for their recommendations and said that their Sports Medicine Committee will review the guidance. At their meeting on Thursday, the CIAC Board of Control will consider voting on a finalized winter plan.
For basketball, gymnastics, and boys’ ice hockey, DPH recommends that athletes, coaches, and officials wear face masks. Swimmers and divers are asked to do the same on the pool deck.
DPH has expressed concern for high-risk sports, recommending that wrestling and competitve cheer/dance be postponed this winter. The organization also suggests that there not be multi-team indoor track and field meets through January and February.
While not advocating for competition right now in those sports, DPH supports non-contact skill work and conditioning.
“The sports are postponed. We are not sure if they will be moved into the (alternative winter) season with football or pushed back later in the year,” said Trifone. “We hope to hear more on Thursday.”
In their current plan, CIAC teams can have 12 contests in the regular season. The state tournament would follow from March 8-21.
Due to COVID-19, the CIAC cut states short in 2020.
“We really hope that the kids get the opportunity to compete in states,” stated Trifone. “The seniors lost that opportunity last year.”
In their meeting last Thursday, the CIAC Board of Control approved mitigating strategies to play this year. Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said that strategies are based largely on what was successful in the fall season.
“DPH is recommending wearing masks indoors for moderate-risk sports and some changes may have to be made to some sports to allow student-athletes to compete safely,” explained Lungarini.
The CIAC had originally hoped to begin the season on Nov. 21 of last year, but after the state paused organized sports and many schools went to remote learning, the start date was pushed back.
“We are still planning on playing winter sports and state championships, but we want it to be in a safe environment,” stated Lungarini.
Before receiving the DPH recommendations, the CIAC met with them on Jan. 4 to talk about the state’s health situation. That conversation was also discussed at last Thursday’s meeting.
“They spent a lot of time with us,” said Lungarini. “We gathered information and heard about their concerns for schools and the things around us.”
The CIAC anticipated an increase of COVID-19 cases after people had come together for the holiday season and New Year’s activities. Lungarini added that the sports medicine committee and DPH are concerned with the new strain of COVD-19 popping up in Connecticut.
“We are looking as to how we can get our kids back safely into sports competition,” said Lungarini.
Also at last Thursday’s meeting, the CIAC looked at the current level of in-person learning in the state.
“We targeted Jan. 19 as the start date because that is when some schools are coming from remote to in-person and hybrid model learning,” explained Lungarini. “With more updates coming out on that, we are continuing to monitor that information going into next week.”
Like in the fall season, the CIAC’s position is that fans should be prohibited at contests, but the decision belongs to school districts. As a member of the Southern Connecticut Conference, Trifone said that Cheshire hasn’t discussed their policy yet.
“The COVID numbers are different than last fall, so we’ll see what happens,” stated Trifone.
On Tuesday, SCC athletic directors met to talk about making tentative schedules.
“We’ll put something together,” said Trifone. “We need to know the date we can play up to. I’ve heard that they (the CIAC) want to have a state tournament, so once we find out when the regular season will end, we can fill in the dates.”
With the support of local health departments and schools, squads are able to condition in cohorts of four athletes. Trifone said that CHS teams are currently not working out together, but look forward to getting more information this week.
Trifone says that the Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League plans to follow CIAC recommendations. He added that Cheshire athletes are currently training on their own at mountains.
As a co-op ice hockey program with Amity and North Haven, CHS girls also compete in the Connecticut Girls Hockey League.
“We haven’t heard from the league yet,” said Trifone. “Since 95 to 98 percent of the schools have co-op hockey teams, there is a concern about mixing players from other schools. That is an issue that we will be looking into for this season.”