Branford will be joining the New Haven schools among the Southern Connecticut Conference girls volleyball teams that will not be playing regular-season matches indoors this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Hamlet Hernandez, Branford’s superintendent of schools, indicated to parents the town would align with the state Department of Public Health’s recommendation, which was to hold girls volleyball matches outdoors rather than indoors. The email was sent due to complaints about this decision.
The state DPH considers girls volleyball indoors to be in the higher-risk category. That differs from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which recommended players wear masks in order to play those matches indoors.
“When the DPH differs from the CIAC, it creates frustration for school districts, their families and student-athletes,” Hernandez stated. “In such cases, our District will defer to the DPH and their recommendations as they are the experts in matters of public health and the CIAC is not.”
Branford co-athletic director Jake Palluzzi said the team has been using the grass field outdoors near the baseball field.
“The team has been practicing outdoors all along doing conditioning and skill work out there,” Palluzzi said.
Palluzzi said the team could also possibly use the area behind the end zone on the turf field used for the other fall sports.
But right now, Branford does not have any outdoor regular-season matches scheduled. The three New Haven programs — Hillhouse, Wilbur Cross and Career — are the only other SCC schools that will be playing outdoors this season.
SCC commissioner Al Carbone confirmed all of the other league girls volleyball programs will remain indoors this season. Schedules are now starting to come out on the CIAC website.
“Hopefully, the New Haven schools and Branford can get together and do stuff outside,” Carbone said. “They have to work that out for themselves.”
Erik Patchkofsky, New Haven’s director of athletics, said the New Haven programs have been practicing outdoors and hopes to have some games played, maybe to include Branford.
Giovanni Meier, Branford’s interim coach, said the team “has made the most of it” with outdoor conditioning and practice. But he is quite pessimistic on having any kind of outdoor season.
“There is no safe place for us to play a match at Branford, I believe there is no season for us right now. Effectively, (the district) has canceled our season by only getting to play outdoors,” Meier said. “I think we will continue practicing as long as the weather holds. But we are reaching the point of diminishing returns because with the weather becoming unpredictable and unsafe because of darkness, wet, slippery, cold and windy conditions, at that point, whatever we will do will not be safe or meaningful to be playing outdoors.”
Meier was appointed the interim coach when Cody Michaels resigned earlier this month due to a change in a job profession, Palluzzi said.