A year to the day that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the 2020 winter state tournaments because of the encroaching COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s organizing body for high school athletics announced Wednesday that a full spring season, including state tournaments, would be released on Thursday.
The CIAC also announced it would be organizing pair summer programs designed to help football and wrestling make up for instruction lost when their seasons were curtailed and prepare them for the next athletic year.
“When you reflect on what happened 365 days ago, we were planning for what may be anything to a two-week to a two-month time out,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said.
“Now, 12 months later, we feel very fortunate that we’re able to look forward to a spring season that is going to be a full season to return kids to state tournament play and develop programs over the summer that will lead into a full fall experience and normal return in fall of 2021.”
The spring season will be run similarly to the 2020 fall season, with continued COVID-19 safety strategies that conform to recent state Dept. of Health’s guidance — including social distancing and mask wearing for some sports. But, unlike the fall, the CIAC will conduct a full season with its first state championship tournaments since 2019.
The spring season will begin with practices on March 28 and competitions on April 10. A two-week state tournament slate will begin June. 1.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision to allow all sports to compete statewide beginning March 19 aided in the reopening of the spring season. It did leave a window open to allow a week-long wrestling season, but the CIAC said 70% of wrestling schools that responded to a survey preferred to maintain its current format of team conditioning.
The Board of Control instead voted to waive the CIAC’s out-of-season coaching rule, granting wrestling coaches the ability to instruct athletes in non-school affiliated wrestling clubs and organizations between March 29 and May 28.
But the biggest announcement was a proposed CIAC ‘Summer Series’ of camps, sponsored and run by the CIAC, that would allow continued football and wrestling instruction into June and July.
Because school districts typically shut down during summer and many programs across the state cannot afford to send athletes to camps, Lungarini said the CIAC would provide insurance, staffing of site directors and athletic trainers, and organization.
Lungarini said the CIAC would charge a “nominal fee” to attend. “It would be as small as possible,” he said.
“You’re trying to close that equity divide that may not be able to spend money for a camp,” Lungarini said. “This gives an opportunity for the kids to develop a community and receive coaching.”
The Summer Series would consist of a maximum of four teams at regional host sites and include five days of 2 1/2 hours of in-person instruction, with 30 minutes of in-person leadership and sportsmanship instruction.
Lungarini said it was developed with a “collaborative effort” from coaches on the CIAC football and wrestling committees.
The board voted to move the proposal forward to the CIAC out-of-season subcommittee for full vetting by principals, athletic directors, and coaches.
“It is important that this is reviewed and we receive feedback by coaches, athletic directors and principals before any approval is made on it,” Lungarini said. “There’s a lot of possibilities with this. That’s where coaches’ input in how this would work is critical.”
The Board of Control considered a proposal, submitted by the FCIAC, similar to previous ones from the NVL and several other state football leagues, to reinstate traditional spring practices, which were eliminated for this year. But it ultimately took no action due to its interest in pursuing the Summer Series option, Lungarini said.
Overall, Lungarini said he’s pleased with the ongoing progress in the state’s return to high school sports, but that the pandemic and its impact is far from finished.
“There was no playbook for this and there still isn’t,” Lungarini said. “Even now, as we open things up, there still needs to be awareness of COVID variants and we need to understand that, while it’s a positive situation today, everything could change tomorrow.”
“Our kids lost a lot. We want to be safe in providing them as much as can and continually make progression in-person learning so they can have a full sports experience.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the CIAC would pay for the entire cost of the Summer Series camps. It has been corrected to say the CIAC will be charging a nominal fee to attend.
Clarification, March 12: The FCIAC spring proposal was the only one considered at the board meeting. A previous one from the NVL was declined at a previous board meeting.