This post was updated Nov. 5, 9:21 p.m.
Youth sports and high school sports that are deemed to be a high risk for transmitting the novel coronavirus will not be allowed to play games in Connecticut for the rest of the calendar year, Gov. Ned Lamont said at his Thursday press briefing.
The decision, which takes effect Monday, ends the independent high school football experiment after just a few weeks.
Lamont also said that new Department of Economic and Community Development sector rules for sports, authorized by his executive order Thursday, will require participants in medium-risk indoor sports like basketball, gymnastics and hockey to wear a face covering.
State youth teams can no longer travel out of state. Regional tournaments and competitions in high- or medium-risk sports won’t be allowed to be hosted in the state. Venues were urged to limit spectators and to have protocols for contact tracing for players and spectators.
All that came a few hours after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference delayed the start of its winter high school sports season, with practices originally scheduled for Nov. 21 and games for Dec. 7, to review new guidelines it’s awaiting from the state Department of Public Health.
“I’ll take anything I can get this year,” Diane Burns, Stamford’s girls basketball coach, said before Lamont spoke. “I just want the opportunity to be in the gym with my team. This is far from a normal year in all aspects so I’m sure the winter sports season will follow the trend. I just hope we get the chance to work with our kids and keep everyone safe in the process.”
CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said at his last look at around 5 p.m., the DPH website still contained its Sept. 25 guidance, which had brought its recommendations for all youth sports in alignment with the recommendations it had given the CIAC.
With the start of practice just a couple of weeks away, Lungarini said, everyone simply needed more time to prepare.
“I think we have to keep in perspective that the doctors on our sports medicine committee have full-time practices. Voting members of the CIAC Board of Control are active principals and assistant principals,” Lungarini said. “The first time they’ll really be able to unpack and digest is tomorrow.”
Lungarini said the plan is to meet with the sports medicine committee Wednesday, a day after the Board of Control was originally set to meet. The board will instead meet on the following Tuesday, Nov. 17, to discuss the plan and whether to go ahead with individual sports.
“It’s an appropriate time frame,” Lungarini said. “Like the fall, each member school receives the CIAC sports plan then needs some time to review that plan with their local health departments. Four days, (Nov.) 17-21, was not adequate for schools to do this.”
Sports termed high-risk include wrestling, tackle football, boys (but not girls) lacrosse, competitive cheer, dance, boxing, rugby and martial arts.
“Whatever happens, it’s not going to be optimal,” said Dave Esposito, coach of Foran’s two-time Class M champion wrestling team. “I just want some sort of season, so the seniors can have some sort of closure to their career. I feel it’s good for kids to have sports nowadays. This is a hard time for them, and I think sports is the one thing that can help them get through this tough time. It’s good for them to be around their friends to compete and be with coaches who are good role models.”
The CIAC winter season was to be slightly shorter than usual leading to a CIAC tournament in mid-February.
“I was expecting (a delay), and I don’t think that it’s the end of the world to push back a date that was pushed up originally,” Notre Dame-West Haven basketball coach Jason Shea said. “If we start practice on Nov. 30 (instead of Nov. 21), that would be around our normal start date anyway.”
Wilton boys basketball coach Joel Geriak said he and other coaches thought starting after Christmas made sense.
“As for tryouts it does affect us trying to get kids ready for a start date,” Geriak said. “We can’t condition kids all year in hopes of keeping them ready to play when it keeps getting moved. They’ll lose that drive and motivation to be prepared.”
The fall season is moving into its postseason, conference and regional tournaments and competitions, with no state championships to follow. It began with a delay of its own, allowing students to return to school before ramping up.
Back-and-forth discussions with DPH resulted in a fall plan that built up from conditioning to full practices before an Oct. 1 start. Girls volleyball remained indoors only with everyone wearing face coverings, and tackle football never won DPH recommendation so was moved to an alternative season in March and April, metrics permitting.
Winter sports that don’t complete at least 40% of their seasons can also move to that alternative season.
Alternatively, almost 30 teams around the state opted for independent football, with a nine-team league tied to the Fairfield County Football League and a 17-team Connecticut High School Independent Football League drawn from around the state. The FCFL began play Oct. 17. The CHSIFL began in earnest a week later, though some teams played earlier.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but we do understand that the rate of COVID has gone up,” Fairfield Ludlowe football coach Mitch Ross said. “In retrospect, it would’ve been nice if we started earlier, but we dealt with it as we could. It was a great experience for the kids, definitely worthwhile, and we’re sad to see that it ends, but we’ll get in four games and the kids all had fun.”
New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli said he was glad his seniors got to play.
“They’re some of the most exciting games that we’ve played, so it’s been good to see them be able to have that opportunity,” Marinelli said. “The February thing that they’ve talked about is not guaranteed. Anything could happen, you don’t know, but at least they’ve gotten the opportunity to play this fall. It’s just an absolute shame that they won’t have the opportunity to experience a full season, with playoffs and everything else.
“I wish there was something more I could do to continue on.”
Mark Siems, one of the CHSIFL’s organizers, told Hearst Connecticut Media that play will end Sunday night.
SCC Commissioner Al Carbone said the league’s athletic directors had been discussing the possibility both of the season being pushed back and of sports being pushed to the alternate season for a while. He wondered aloud why a sport played during the actual winter months couldn’t overlap with the start of the alternate. Currently all winter sports are to conclude by Feb. 21.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the girls’ sports about that. Why do they have to be impacted by the alternate season? It’s not as impactful as people think,” Carbone said. “We don’t know who will be in the alternate season besides football. Until we know what that looks like, we will have to be pretty flexible.”
In recent weeks, to questions about sports like hockey and independent football, Lamont has said that sports themselves haven’t driven infections, but activities around them — teams traveling and congregating, tournaments — have.
“We’re delighted for the kids that we were able to provide four weeks of outstanding football that was fun for the kids, that gave them tape, that helped them get into college, and gave them something to do. Mission accomplished as far as what we wanted to do,” Ross said.
“Just as importantly, there were zero cases of transmission during the game, and I can speak for my team that we had no transmission of COVID during practice. Everything went great from the Fairfield County part of the independent league, both as far as giving the kids an opportunity to play as well as from a health perspective.”
Acting DPH commissioner Deidre Gifford said teams at tournaments have been a struggle for busy local health departments.
“When you have, particularly, a schoolkid on a team that has been at a tournament, exposed to COVID, then the contact tracing is very challenging and time-consuming,” Gifford said.
“They’re telling us it’s beginning to impact the ability of some schools to remain open because so many kids are being asked to quarantine, and sometimes it’s teachers as well if they’re acting as coaches.”
Shea, also Notre Dame’s athletic director, is hoping the DPH “looked at what’s been going on in the state since July 6” when making its decisions on winter sports guidance.
Shea said he did his own independent research on AAU basketball being played this summer, and of the approximately 6,250 AAU games played statewide from July 6 to the end of October, both boys and girls playing without masks, he said only two games required contract tracing.
“Sports has not been the cause of superspreader events,” Shea said. “We will have cases, we will have quarantines and we will have rescheduled games. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play because it’s inconvenient.”
At least 25 schools have had fall contests rescheduled for COVID-19 cases in their schools or in their communities.
Shea also spoke before Lamont, but asked about a possible mask requirement for basketball players, he answered, “If they say wear masks, our guys will wear masks.”
The state’s metrics are up. Hospitalizations, at 380 as of Thursday’s update, on Tuesday hit their highest since June. The 47 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the past seven days make it the worst week since July. There have been over 6,000 cases reported in seven days.
Indicators designed to determine whether to prefer in-person or online learning were a calm yellow through September; Fairfield County, with 25.2 new cases per 100,000 population from Oct. 18-31, ticked into the red in this week’s update.
Scott Ericson, Dave Stewart and Bill Bloxsom contributed to this report.
The email was sent by CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini this afternoon, which reads:
The following email was sent by CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini this afternoon, which reads:
Dear CIAC Member School Principals, Superintendents, and Athletic Directors,
The purpose of this communication is to update you on the CIAC winter sports plan process. The CIAC anticipates an update by DPH on winter sports very soon. A meeting with the CSMS Sports Medicine Committee is scheduled for next week to review updated DPH sport guidance along with the CIAC winter sports draft plan. Upon completion of that meeting, the CIAC will have a final winter sports draft proposal for consideration by the CIAC Board of Control.
To allow adequate time to review updated DPH guidance and to receive recommendations from CIAC’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, the CIAC Board of Control meeting has been rescheduled to Tuesday, November 17th. The CIAC understands that, upon approval of its winter sports plan, each member school will need some time to review that document with its local health department. Therefore, the CIAC is postponing the November 21st winter sports start date. The CIAC Board of Control will consider a new start date for winter sports at its November 17th board meeting.
Scott Ericson, Dave Stewart and Bill Bloxsom contributed to this report.