Planning for fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging enough. Looking ahead a month to how winter sports will operate is even more complicated.
Adminstrators and organizers hope to have a better idea once the Connecticut Department of Public Health shares its recommendations for high school winter sports.
Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the CIAC, expects the state DPH’s recommendation as soon as Friday.
“That’s our understanding. We do expect updated guidance for the indoor winter sports season,” Lungarini said Wednesday afternoon. “They (DPH) have been very receptive to any information we shared with them. If they take a little more time because they are considering all of the information given to them, that is also appropriate and appreciated by us.”
“Right now, it’s a wait-and-see situation for all of us when it comes to high school winter sports,” said Erik Patchkofsky, the New Haven Public Schools athletic director who also doubles as the director of the Floyd Little Athletic Center, the state’s busiest winter sports venue. “Any plans we had over the last few weeks when it comes to how we would hold winter sports are now useless. We can’t move forward until we see what the new guidelines are and we won’t know that until Friday.”
Connecticut’s positivity rate was reported at 3.4 percent Wednesday with a seven-day positivity rate of 2.6 percent. The new case average per 100,000 people rose to 17, up from 16.5 the day before.
Lungarini said the CIAC met with acting DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford; Department of Economic Community and Development Commissioner David Lehman; and Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, last Thursday. Lungarini called it “a great conversation,” also reiterating that the CIAC and state DPH have been sharing information back and forth throughout the process of determining how to have a safe winter sports season.
Lungarini also noted that the CSMS Sports Medical Advisory Committee is still reviewing the mitigation recommendations made by the individual sports committees. That review will continue once the state DPH’s guidance is updated.
Part of those committee recommendations included the option of wearing masks during play. It was not mandatory.
When asked whether he expects the DPH’s recommendation to include that masks be required for all winter sports athletes, Lungarini responded: “I’m not sure what is going to be the recommendation or what the requirements will be. We shared some information with them just this week. Once they complete their process and publish their updated guidance, we will give a thorough review with our sports medical committee.”
Two weeks ago, Patchkofsky sent Bob Davis, director of track operations at the Floyd Little Athletic Center, and Hillhouse indoor track coach Gary Moore to the CIAC for an informal meeting to brainstorm ideas. They discussed how the venue would open for winter sports when it came to COVID-19 mitigation, etc. They reported back to Patchkofsky, who handles the basketball operation at the venue. In addition to boys and girls basketball games, the venue is the hub of the high school indoor track season, with nearly 80 percent of the state’s track meets held in the state-of-the-art facility. The facility also hosts wrestling meets.
“Nothing really came out of the CIAC meeting,” Patchkofsky said. “It was informal, a ‘what if’ session where we were just brainstorming ideas. But all the ideas and suggestions we had to hold winter sports events were based on Connecticut Department of Health guidelines at the time. Now, we have to wait for the new guidelines and then CIAC director Glenn Lungarini will talk to the Department of Public Health and then the CIAC doctors to determine where we will go with winter sports.
“Right now, there is nothing in place and we are planning for all scenarios for the Floyd Little Athletic Center. We are taking a wait-and-see approach because we don’t want to give false hope and have this to turn into a football situation.”
Patchkofsky said it’s unknown what the new guidelines will look like.
“Right now, COVID is spiking in our state,” Patchkofsky said. “We just don’t know where the Department of Health will go with their new guidelines. We are planning for all possibilities and contingencies. Will winter sports need to be modified in some way, will sports be moved to the spring, will there be no winter sports?
“Safety of our students is always the priority. But if they decide not to have sports there would be a significant loss of revenue for the Floyd Little Athletic Center.”
Currently, the CIAC’s Board of Control is scheduled to meet on Nov. 10 to review everything recommended from all of the committees and determine which sports can proceed. Lungarini said if more time is needed to review, pushing back the meeting to Nov. 16 or 17 could happen.
Winter sports practices are scheduled to begin Nov. 21. The regular season is scheduled to begin Dec. 7.
Basketball and hockey teams can schedule up to 16 games and a maximum of 14 meets each for both wrestling and boys swimming. Basketball teams can only schedule within their leagues. Teams are not allowed to attend events out of state. A postseason experience is expected, with an emphasis on regionalization during the early rounds.
The New England Sports Council announced last week it was canceling New England championships for cheerleading, dance, gymnastics, indoor track and wrestling.
“Our mindset is to explore all possibilities to safely play indoor winter sports,” Lungarini said. “If through that process we identify any sport we do not feel safe to play, those sports will be moved to the alternative season (between February and April). But our mindset as we develop strategies is how we can safely engage kids in winter sports.”