Knowing temperatures were expected to climb into the upper 90s Tuesday, Matt Hove, the football coach at Wolcott High, texted his players Monday night with a simple request.
Be prepared to wake up early.
And that’s what they proceeded to do, meeting Hove at 6 o’clock in the morning Tuesday for a quick but productive practice before the start of school.
“I woke up at 4 in the morning and drove from Groton to Wolcott, and we went at it for an hour,” Hove said.
Due to the recent heat wave in Connecticut, Hove, like many other coaches, has gone to great lengths just to find time to practice for the upcoming season.
Wolcott was one of the many schools to dismiss students early Tuesday because of the extreme heat, meaning Hove was left with a few options regarding when he could practice: outdoors before school, immediately after school in an air-conditioned room, outdoors after 5:30 p.m., or cancel it altogether.
“Last Tuesday, we could only watch film in the library since it was air-conditioned,” he said. “On Wednesday, we couldn’t do anything. On Thursday, we had a walkthrough with no pads on at the air-conditioned gym at the middle school. On Friday, we conducted a full scrimmage against Bullard-Havens Tech.”
The CIAC, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, leaves it up to the discretion of its member schools to decide whether it’s safe to conduct practices in excessive heat. They suggest holding “modified practices” — for example, conducting a walkthrough in a climate-controlled room — on days when temperatures soar close to triple digits.
“All coaches feel like before that first game, you want to be as prepared as possible,” CIAC associate executive director Gregg Simon said. “We understand that these have been difficult conditions and we absolutely empathize with our member schools.”
With the regular season set to kick off this weekend, some coaches insist they’re way behind schedule in their preparation for the season because of practices they’ve lost due to the heat. Take, for example, Trinity Catholic coach Donny Panapada, whose team has had two practices wiped out within the last week.
“The school shut down all after-school activities, meetings, everything,” Panapada said Tuesday. “They wanted the kids to go home.”
Panapada understands that the safety of his players is paramount. At the same time, he believes he should be allowed to practice in the heat so long as he takes the proper precautions.
“It’s warm out here, for sure,” he said. “But if you’re smart about it and stuff, I think it’s controllable. Obviously, there’s a lot of water breaks built in, it’s a lot warmer in other parts of the country. It is what it is.
“Hopefully we don’t run into another issue tomorrow because it’s going to be warm again.”
Those who have been allowed to hit the field have taken extra precautions. North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said he scaled back his practice Tuesday, requiring that players wear only shoulder pads and helmets instead of full pads. Drills were reduced to between 10 to 15 minutes and were light in contact.
“I understand the concerns, I really do,” he said. “But I also feel the heat can be managed. If it can be managed correctly, every school system has its own policies and its own concerns.”
Harry Bellucci, the coach at Hartford Public and CHSCA football chairperson, has concerns. He went so far as to voice them on Twitter Tuesday, three days before his team’s opener at Bristol Central: “If we’re going to have weather cancellations because of heat, we need to consider moving games back to 2nd week of Sept. Teams have missed 4-5 practices last 10 days. Teams open Friday have a challenge to be prepared to play,” he wrote.
When asked whether he would approve of teams rescheduling their season-opener because of such concerns, Simon said he’d leave that decision up to the schools themselves. All the CIAC requires is that football teams hold at least 10 practices before interscholastic competition begins.
“That’s kind of ironclad in our rules,” Simon said. “It was established by our sports medical committee and approved by the CIAC Board of Control.”
With that said, some coaches can’t help but feel as if they’re stuck in a no-win spot as the season draws near. They don’t want to risk their players’ health by practicing in extreme heat, but they also don’t want them to be ill-prepared for a game.
“Now if you start losing practices this week, you start running into issues where kids aren’t prepared to play,” said Hove, whose team hosts Naugatuck on Friday.
Perhaps only time will tell if they’re ready.
“I’m going to be honest, if we lose another practice tomorrow, it could be an issue to go Friday night,” Panapada said.