Bunnell football coach Ty Jenkins was looking at 200 faceguards that had just been delivered to the school, at plexiglass partitions that would protect his players against COVID-19 at the fieldhouse.
And he’d just been looking at “87 teary-eyed young men” when he had to tell them that equipment wouldn’t be used and their season was over before it began.
After the CIAC announced Friday morning that it would go along with Department of Public Health (DPH) recommendations and not play 11-on-11 football this fall, Jenkins felt like he’d been made the bad guy who had to take football away from his team.
“Three times I’ve had to have that conversation,” Jenkins said.
Friday seemed to be the final word, after several stops and starts over the summer as the CIAC and DPH went back and forth over the feasibility of contact high school football amid a pandemic with 53,365 positive tests in the state since high school games were last played in March.
In the frustration and anger of Friday, some refused to give up on playing this fall, and others refused to accept the CIAC’s refusal to consider a football season in springtime.
An online petition started by a Haddam-Killingworth player seeking a restored fall football season had over 17,000 virtual signatures by early Friday evening.
Berlin coach Joe Aresimowicz, whose day job is Connecticut Speaker of the House (D-Berlin), said he hoped to appeal to Gov. Ned Lamont to step in and reverse the decision.
“I’m hoping beyond hope he will step in and say, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” said Aresimowicz, who was critical of the DPH’s handling of the situation.
“I think most people in Connecticut understand if a spike happens, we’d have to shut it down. But at least give us a chance.”
Hand coach Steve Filippone was circulating a proposal with the slogan “Send Off Our Seniors,” urging an abbreviated spring football season that would end by mid-April and permit a full spring sports season.
“We’d obviously welcome any opportunity to play, fall or spring,” Seymour coach Mike Kearns said. “Give us an opportunity.”
In the moment, though, there were no guarantees.
“It will take years for this to heal for some of these kids,” McMahon coach Jeff Queiroga said.
“There is an extra layer added to this working at a city school because we have kids that show up at school because they are on the football team. I also have kids who quit their jobs to play football and now will have to go back and ask for their jobs back. If there is no spring football, I can’t ask kids to keep coming to practice when they could be working and helping their families with money.”
Stamford coach Jamar Greene lost his father, Jack Bryant, to the pandemic in April. He said he understands the gravity of the situation, but he doesn’t understand the DPH recommendations when positive-test rates remain under 1 percent, and when students spend time indoors at school.
“How is it not safe to play football (but) it was safe for baseball and lacrosse to play outside and basketball to play inside all summer?” Greene said.
“I am absolutely in favor of spring football if that’s all we can do. Right now, football is the only sport being penalized in the fall and the only sport with no club format. The only way a high school kid can play football is at school. If the CIAC and the Department of Health want to help our kids they will come up with a spring plan.”
State coaches are required to undergo a certification process, Jenkins said. Many of them are teachers themselves.
“Trust these people you employ to take care of your kids,” Jenkins said. “I’m trusted with multiple-hundred kids indoors, but you won’t trust me with 11 on the field?”
Coaches knew the CIAC and DPH were in touch Thursday, which resulted in the latest DPH letter holding its ground.
“I thought they were meeting over the numbers and how well we were doing (in Connecticut),” Notre Dame-West Haven coach John DeCaprio said.
“I did not think they would pull it this quickly.”
One thing about Thursday unnerved Xavier coach Andy Guyon.
“Talking to other guys around the state, they said the same thing. No one was saying anything,” Guyon said. “I got that unsettled feeling in your stomach that something wasn’t right here.”
The CIAC Board of Control’s decision came down Friday morning.
“The adults in the room did not do the kids or the coaches any favors over the last month,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said.
It was, though, a decision that many football people saw coming for a while, Danbury coach Augustine Tieri said. He’d said a couple of weeks ago that the CIAC should focus on playing in the spring.
“It’s unfortunate for the kids,” Tieri said. “We’re making sure they’re in a good situation under the circumstances.
“Moving forward, my hope is that the CIAC will be very accommodating to high school football coaches in the state of Connecticut in allowing us to work with the kids…. I hope they’re a little more laissez-faire and let us keep them involved, to cushion the blow to the kids.”
Though 7-on-7 has been floated as a possibility, it didn’t excite most coaches. It certainly doesn’t excite linemen, who’d mostly either be excluded or be forced into other positions, or their coaches, who don’t want to exclude them or use them in weird situations.
St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia wasn’t happy that football was singled out as a high-risk sport. At the same time, he didn’t want DPH reconsidering its recommendations about other lower-risk sports, potentially taking those sports away, too.
“If we don’t understand as coaches, how do we explain it to a 16-, 17-year-old kid who’s been dreaming of this opportunity for the last four years?” Della Vecchia said. “His senior year, he wants to win a championship. Every kid on 144 teams has that dream, 9,000 kids. “
Jenkins said he told his players to take 24 hours, much like they would after a loss on the field, then be ready to go back to work. They’ll resume workouts and if it comes to taking part in a modified version of the sport, they’ll consider it. And they’ll prepare to return in 2021. Maybe.
Sean Patrick Bowley, Scott Ericson, Joe Morelli and Pete Paguaga contributed to this report.