All sports in Connecticut will be allowed to practice and play games starting March 19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday as he unveiled the state’s new reopening plan.
Though each sport will be subject to guidance from the state’s Dept. of Health, the order means all sports — from youth to high school and college and even recreational leagues — will be able to operate normally.
The order also includes all tournaments, which were under restrictions under the latest DPH guidance set on Jan. 19 that prohibited the playing of high-risk sports and multi-team tournaments.
The reopening plan all but clears the way for all Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference spring-sponsored high school sports to play full schedules and state tournaments, which weren’t played last year while the state was in the throes of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Last month, the CIAC announced the 2021 spring season can begin practices on March 27 and start competition on April 10. Spring state tournaments are expected to be run from June 1-13.
“The CIAC is encouraged by Governor Lamont’s announcement today about opening up additional sports opportunities toward the end of March,” the CIAC said in a statement. “As has been the practice throughout the pandemic, the CIAC will now review the latest information with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and Board of Control.”
In a release, which stressed the importance of maintaining COVID-19 safety to keep schools open statewide, the Dept. of Health outlined its new COVID-19 sports guidance based on those from the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations and the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
“DPH agrees that there are real and significant benefits of athletic activity for physical and mental health and well-being for both children and adults,” the Dept. of Health said in its release. “However, not all sports are equal in their potential to spread infectious respiratory droplets, and therefore certain sports and activities have more potential to negatively impact communities.
“This, coupled with our understanding of the dynamics and the role of asymptomatic drivers of spread in our communities, the potential impact of youth sports outbreaks on in-person learning, and our continuing experiences both within our state and nationwide with community spread of COVID-19 all point to the need for a continued cautious approach to organized athletic activities.”
Most of the DPH’s new sports guidance remains the same as those already in place in the fall and winter seasons, but now include sports that had been previously prohibited, like football and wrestling.
For sports that engage in frequent, face-to-face contact, the DPH said it recommends social distancing on sidelines, cohort practices and mask wearing in competition and, in certain cases, rule changes to limit exposure.
These kinds of sports include basketball, cheerleading, crew, dance teams, field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse, as well as football, rugby, wrestling and martial arts.
In addition to wearing masks, CIAC boys lacrosse will likely follow a recent NCAA rule change to face-offs. Instead of kneeling with motorcycle grips, players will start face-offs with only their feet, gloves and sticks touching the ground.
Some state prep schools and clubs already play under NCAA faceoff rules. A final decision is expected in the coming weeks when the Board of Control meets to approve of a spring sports plan.
The DPH also recommended that close-contact sports like football, wrestling, martial arts and rugby should also provide athletes and parents additional education about the risks playing those sports.
For sports that engage in infrequent contact — like baseball, softball, track and field — the DPH recommended mask wearing and practice cohorts for those played indoors and outdoors whenever close contact might be expected, such as for batters, catchers and umpires at home plate for baseball and softball. Masks will not be required in the remaining field of play for baseball and softball.
Finally, the DPH said sports like tennis, golf, gymnastics, swimming would not be required to wear masks during competition, but should maintain mask wearing outside of competition.
The CIAC had previously hoped to play football in the spring, but the postponement of the winter season to February forced the Board of Control to scrap those plans in January.
Similarly, though wrestling would be allowed under the Governor’s new sports plan, the March 19 reopening date would only allow for one week to conduct a season. Currently, wrestling has only been allowed to participate in conditioning and skill-based practices.