Boys golf is the closest any CIAC sport has come to switching seasons. In early 2020, the fate of the sport moving from spring to fall was in the hands of the CIAC Board of Control.
But there was too much opposition from member schools, not enough of an overwhelming majority. So the Board of Control voted down the proposal.
But the board did extend an olive branch.
Teams were able to explore the option of moving to the fall as early as 2021. So while the COVID-19 pandemic moved to the forefront, schools and golf programs made decisions on their future.
So this will be the final spring season with all the boys golf teams together before 52 teams head to the fall season.
“Hopefully, more schools over the next couple of years will come on board and join us in the fall. Right now, obviously, we are in the minority,” New Canaan coach Bill Brown said. “This is something we have been very excited about being able to do. In April, golf courses are not in great shape.”
Tom O’Donnell has been Darien’s gold coach for 32 years. He is currently in his second stint on the CIAC golf committee. There have been several surveys conducted over the course of two decades to consider moving golf to the fall season.
O’Donnell recalled the first one being done in 1999. That one was conducted for a different reason, O’Donnell said: to balance out the number of fall boys sports with the spring ones
The interest from schools considering a move to the fall season grew over time.
The last survey came after both the South-West Conference and FCIAC combined on its proposal in 2019. It was about course availability — how many courses would be more available during the fall rather than the spring. The growth of girls golf contributed to this (girls golf will remain in the spring).
Weather early in the spring was another negative on staying put.
“This (move) would put less stress on golf courses,” Pomperaug boys coach Rich Szymanski said. This is his 33rd season. “Moving boys to the fall is the best situation to open up course space. Our incentive to do this is to make it easier for us and courses to schedule matches.”
Joe Velardi, the CIAC golf committee liaison, and O’Donnell both said the last survey had a 72 percent approval from the CIAC’s membership schools comprised of coaches, athletic directors and principals. That percentage dropped to just 54 percent when the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors (CAAD) did its own poll of just the athletic directors in November of 2019.
CAAD and The Connecticut High School Coaches Association executive board both raised some concerns regarding whether there would be enough golf courses to go around during the fall if everyone moved.
The Board of Control voted down the proposed move to the fall. But then came the caveat: programs could explore their own opportunities about moving to the fall season.
The Berkshire League has also decided to make the move to the fall. And so have nearly half of the schools in the Central Connecticut Conference.
The CCC schools departing for the fall are as follows: Avon, Berlin, Bloomfield, Conard, Farmington, Glastonbury, Hall, Lewis Mills, New Britain, Newington, Northwest Catholic, Rocky Hill, Simsbury and Wethersfield. CCC commissioner Trish Witkin told Hearst Connecticut Media back in February that teams in the 32-team league were given the option to decide whether or not to move.
“There was a big push within our conference to move to the fall. I’m not sure how many teams decided not to move. Some just don’t like change, if I had to guess (why some CCC teams stayed in the spring),” Berlin coach John Line said. “Kids who come off playing in the summer come in at the start of the season in golf shape so to speak. (In the spring), they haven’t played for four or five months.”
Len Corto, the CCC liaison for boys golf and New Britain’s athletic director, said this year’s CCC championship meet was held June 3 at Stanley GC in New Britain. He also said discussions are ongoing about whether there will be two CCC championship meets – one held in each season. Corto said nothing has been finalized yet.
As for the Berkshire, Matt Perachi, the league’s golf chairperson, said the Berkshire has long been in favor of moving to the fall.
“It’s always been unanimous,” said Perachi, also the athletic director at Shepaug Valley. “As the Berkshire golf chairperson, I have been in favor of this move for decades.”
Perachi was the president of CAAD the past two years. So when this proposal was being vetted, what was once an overwhelming majority went down as time progressed.
“I had to represent the member organization. It was clearly not overwhelmingly in favor of it, even though I was in favor of the move,” Perachi said.
With the growing number of girls golf teams, that would have made course availability even more difficult with both sexes playing in the spring season. For the first time, there will be two divisions of state championships for girls golf.
“We go through the same thing every spring, the first nice day (of the spring), all the members are out on the private course. We seem to be in the way. I think (the courses) are excited about not having that issue,” Szymanski said.
Said Mike Moraghan, the executive director of the Connecticut State Golf Association: “Courses are in better condition in September and October than they are in April and May, there is no question about it. The weather is better in September and October. … Course availability of golf courses is a huge consideration.”
The reasons why enough schools balked at the idea of moving the sport to the fall were weather-related — holding a championship meet when the weather could be iffy. Also some schools were concerned they would lose athletes to other sports.
Killingly coach and athletic director Kevin Macoux mentioned both issues in his vocal opposition of the move.
“Of the 12 kids on our team, 11 of them play a fall sport,” said Marcoux, also the school’s athletic director, in 2020. “This is the nature of Killingly golf as I’m sure this is the nature of small- or middle-sized school golf programs that have multiple-sports athletes.”
There would be student-athletes who would choose instead to play soccer and football, but the flip side is kids who play baseball or lacrosse may now choose to play golf.
Another negative is spitting up the best golfers. Currently, the SCC, ECC, half the CCC and the Shoreline Conference will remain in the spring. So they will now not get a chance to face the best golfers in the FCIAC, the SWC and maybe even the CCC.
“You still have to beat good teams to win a state championship. You still have to beat good teams to win a conference championship,” Line said.
What was four state championships each spring will now become five – three during the spring and two in the fall. Most people interviewed for this story agreed that it does currently dilute the sport itself with it being split up.
“It’s hard to imagine any other sports agreeing to do this,” O’Donnell said. “It wasn’t in the best interest of boys golf in the state of Connecticut. The long-term danger is schools don’t eventually see moving to the fall as advantageous for their kids and the sport in general and to keep it like this.”
Teams have the ability to move back and forth if their respective leagues allow them too. For instance, if a CCC team chooses to move back to the spring after this coming fall season – they have to let the CIAC know by Jan. 1, 2022.
Then that team cannot have a golf season again until the spring of 2023.
The CSGA helps run all of the state meets and will continue to do so for both seasons.
“My own personal preference from a former (college) coach’s perspective (head men’s coach at the University of Virginia) is to have everyone playing in the same season,” Moraghan said. “But that said, it can be looked at as something of an experiment. We will see if it affects participation numbers for those electing to play in the fall.”
The CIAC seasons limitation committee has approved this fall’s schedule. Golf practice will begin on Aug. 16. Matches are scheduled to begin on Aug. 30 — nearly two weeks before any other fall sport begins.
The last counting date for regular-season meets will be Oct. 13. The two state championship meets will be held the week of Oct. 18. Silo Point CC in Southbury — formerly Heritage Village CC – will host one of the championships.
There will be no State Open held this fall, but the New England Championship meet will move to the fall — it has already been canceled for this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are unchartered waters. I’m confident we made the right decision. We will see how it plays out,” Brown said.