CHESHIRE — Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference executive director Glenn Lungarini made one of the toughest decisions in his tenure as the CIAC top official Tuesday morning, announcing the CIAC would cancel its remaining state tournament games due to the impact of coronavirus.
This will mark the first time in 97 years the CIAC will not hold a state championship game in boys basketball.
Lungarini said the decision was made after consulting with many school districts and officials.
“After much consideration and consultation, the CIAC has made the difficult decision to cancel all remaining CIAC winter tournament games,” Lungarini said. “The CIAC understands and appreciates the disappointment that student athletes, parents, coaches and administrators may feel as a result of this decision. However, we must always place the health and safety of our student athletes first.”
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A whirlwind of events occurred regarding the future of the CIAC’s 2020 winter tournament games in a 24-hour period between Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday morning, the CIAC posted a press release on its website with an updated response to the coronavirus outbreak. The statement said the CIAC would be monitoring the situation on a daily basis.
At 5 p.m. on Monday, Lungarini said he was on a conference call with Gov. Ned Lamont and state education officials, including Commissioner of Education Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, discussing what to do moving forward. Lungarini said Lamont stated each school district should consult with their local health organizations to determine what was best for them
Between that call and a 9 a.m. CIAC staff meeting on Tuesday, Lungarini had calls from school districts throughout the state. Different school districts were making different calls on how to handle their sports teams.
On Monday night, for instance, Wallingford school district officials announced fans would not be permitted to attend home tournament games. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton requested no spectators at the city’s high school games Monday night. Some school districts alerted the CIAC they would not play in upcoming tournament games. At the 9 a.m. staff meeting it was decided to cancel the remaining tournament games.
“Due to continuing concerns regarding the spread of CoVid 19, the responses from multiple school districts and third party venues have varied greatly,”Lungarini said. “Some districts have informed us they can no longer participate in our tournaments. Others have informed us that they can continue to participate without any fans in attendance. Still others have communicated that they can participate with less than 100 people in attendance.
“Additionally, we have been notified by several of our third party and neutral site venues they can no longer host our events. Given the great variety of information that our districts are receiving from their local departments of health and from declining resources to hold neutral site games, we feel that it’s important the CIAC give direction to our schools regarding the logistics of athletics.”
Lungarini said the uncertainty of coronavirus and its impact on the state contributed to the decision to cancel the winter tournament games.
“The CIAC, again with always placing the interests of our students first, feels at this time the best use of our membership’s time is to focus on the educational needs of our students,” Lungarini said. “There are a lot of unknowns that still exist with CoVid 19 within Connecticut. This has just begun here, so we don’t know exactly how far this will spread.
“But when we consider the best action we can take to address the needs of our schools we feel that we should give them the opportunity at this point to focus on the educational needs of our students”
Lungarini also understood the negative response there would likely be among some athletes, coaches and parents.
“Playing for a state championship is what athletes all strive for,” Lungarini said. “This bold decision will bring out emotions and by being placed in this situation there will be hurt feelings and anger will be there. The CIAC understands the disappointment that many will feel. But placing the health and safety concerns of our athletes is our first priority.”
An online petition started by a former Fairfield Prep hockey goal to have the tournaments reinstated and played before no fans had received just fewer than 50,000 signatures as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Championships for 10 basketball divisions, five in both boys and girls were scheduled to be held at Mohegan Sun Arena March 21-22. Hockey championships were to be held for three divisions at Yale’s Ingalls Rink Marh 19, 23-24. Swimming championships for four divisions were to be held at Wesleyan March 17-18 and the State Open at Yale March 21.
“I feel terrible for the seniors. Do I agree with it? Right, wrong or indifferent — listen, I’m assuming the people doing this know more than I do. I get it. I’m in the first-responder field as a fireman. Add the media: It sells,” Hamden boys hockey coach Todd Hall said. “I don’t know the alternative. Do it without fans, spectators? I have a meeting with the team at 2:30 today, our regular practice time. We’ll have a discussion if we need. If they show up, ‘all good,’ which I doubt — otherwise we’ll have some type of discussion. Wherever it leads, maybe it’s a life lesson, which we talk about. Not everything’s going to go your way. Tomorrow’s not a given.”
CIAC state championship events for boys and girls indoor track, wrestling and gymnastics have already been completed. The New England gymnastics championship meet scheduled to be held at Farifield Warde High School Saturday has been cancelled.
The CIAC has held a state tournament championship in boys basketball every year since 1923. Ice hockey has had a tournament championship every year since 1964. There was a hiatus from 1952-63.Ice hockey tournaments were held in 1948, 49, 50 and 52. Girls basketball has held tournament finals since 1974 and boys swimming since 1973.
“I’m very disappointed,” Shelton Athletic Director John Niski said. “I feel bad for our student athlete and coaches who have worked so hard for so long. It is a bitter pill to swallow. I was hoping playing with an empty gym might be the decision made, but they (the CIAC) have more information. As this situation continues to evolve, they have to look at a bigger picture.”
“I’m devastated for my seniors and for my whole team,” Ridgefield boys basketball coach Andrew McClellan said. “We have a meeting today after school and I don’t know what I’m going to say. It’s kind of a hollow feeling. This is the best team in Ridgefield’s history and we thought we were set up to do some things in the state tournament that we hadn’t done before. At the end of the day, I would have loved to see the CIAC postpone the tournament for a week and then reassess the situation.”
The Conneticut High School Girls Hockey Association, which does not fall under the jurisdiction of the CIAC, also cancelled its remaining tournament games. The semifinals between Greenwich and Darien, and New Canaan and Simsbury were scheduled for Tuesday night.
Also, Lungarini said nothing has been decided when it comes to the upcoming spring sports season. Practices for the spring season are scheduled to begin March 21 with the first contests to be played April 4. Conditioning for spring sports is scheduled to start Saturday.
“We have not made a decision on spring sports at this time,” Lungarini said. “We will monitor the coronavirus situation over the next two weeks. One difference between the spring and winter is spring sports, except for boys volleyball, are played outdoors. You aren’t in an indoor environment.”