The start of the winter sports season took a step closer to beginning on Jan. 19 after recent updated guidance by the state Department of Public Health was provided to the CIAC. Games could begin as early as Feb. 1.
In an email to state athletic directors Monday afternoon obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said the DPH guidance allows the moderate and low risk sports of basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics, boys swimming and indoor track to begin “any team activities that involve group aerobic conditioning, sports specific non-contact skill development drills, team practices, and/or intra-squad scrimmages.”
But the DPH recommended the high-risk sports of wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance does not hold any competition or matches, only allowing “ small group conditioning and non-contact skill building for the duration of the winter season.”
The CIAC Board of Control will vote on the CIAC’s current winter sports plan at its next meeting on Thursday.
Lungarini said the DPH provided its guidance to the CIAC on Friday. Lungarini and Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state DPH, met last Monday.
“The DPH guidance is very timely and detailed. It provides our board the opportunity to make a decision on Thursday based on this guidance,” Lungarini said.
In the release, the DPH “strongly encourages schools located in towns color coded as ‘red’ (15+ cases per 100,000 per day) to review the COVID climate in that district, with that district’s school doctor and local DPH, to determine the appropriateness of continuing with game competitions.” The November plan had strongly encouraged suspending game play in red towns.
The move comes as the state recorded 7,364 cases of COVID-19 since Friday. The new infections were found in 116,244 new tests for a positivity rate of 6.33 percent. There were 33 more COVID hospitalizations, bringing the statewide total to 1,142. There were 92 more deaths reported Monday, increasing the Connecticut death toll to 6,416.
During the fall season, teams spent most of the summer months conditioning in cohorts of 10, then had almost a month of skill development in those cohorts before full practices began 10 days before the start of the regular season.
Winter teams currently are being allowed to have up to four athletes together for conditioning only. More conditioning is likely needed, which would mean games won’t begin on Feb. 1 if that is the case.
“We do have a review upcoming with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and in addition to DPH guidance, we will also be discussing appropriate conditioning given that both CIAC and youth sports have not been playing for more than a month,” Lungarini said.
The Board of Control approved a list of mitigation protocols for each winter sport last Thursday morning.
Players, coaches and officials will need to wear facemasks for all low- and moderate-risk winter sports like boys and girls basketball, boys hockey, gymnastics and indoor track.
Multiple mask breaks will be instituted. Also, athletes and officials are encouraged to have multiple masks on hand. All athletes and coaches will remain socially distant with masks on while on the sidelines.
As previously reported, the DPH is also recommending no multi-team indoor track meets, nor out-of state games or meets. The CIAC had previously determined sports hold competition in its own leagues, with all sports having no more than 12 regular-season contests.
The plan also lists its state championships to be held March 8-21.
Winter sports were originally supposed to begin preseason practice on Nov. 21 with games to begin on Dec. 7. On Nov. 5, the CIAC abandoned those dates; it expected to have a plan for winter no sooner than Nov. 17, and schools would need more time to discuss that plan with their local health departments.
At that Nov. 17 meeting, the CIAC Board of Control pushed the start of practices to Jan. 19, two weeks after schools were expected to return to class remotely and a possible date for a return to classrooms.
Two days later on Nov. 19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a sweeping two-month shutdown for non-intercollegiate amateur team sports. Among the activities prohibited until Jan. 19 were competition and practice in sports classified as higher-risk for transmitting droplets (like wrestling, competitive cheerleading and dance in the winter); interstate travel for competition, camps, clinics and tournaments; and all practice and competition in team sports involving more than four players.
Lamont said at his Monday press conference that all youth sports can resume on Jan. 19, but the ban on interstate travel and games remains in place.
Staff writer Michael Fornabaio contributed to this story.