CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini remains optimistic that there will be a fall sports season of some sort. What that will look like is still anyone’s guess.
There hasn’t been a high school sporting event held since March 9 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The remainder of the winter sports postseason was cancelled on March 10. The CIAC held out for as long as it could for hopes of some type of spring season, but ended up becoming the last state in the country to cancel the season on May 5.
Now everyone waits to see what transpires for the fall season: when will it start, how long will it be and will there be any different sports played?
“I don’t think we are in danger of not being played. If we deem it’s not safe for them (the normal fall sports) to be played in the fall, we will consider playing them in the spring,” Lungarini said. “It will depend on what phase of Governor (Ned) Lamont’s plan we are in and what new information we have for contact tracing, testing and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.”
To say this is on Lungarini’s mind constantly would be a vast understatement. “I’ve spent every waking minute of the day thinking about this. Even to have a regular season, to start football practice on Aug. 17, a significant amount will need to change,” he said.
Much will depend upon where the state stands in Gov. Ned Lamont’s re-opening phase. We are currently in the midst of Phase 1. Phase 2 is scheduled to happen on or around June 20.
Phase 2 includes gatherings of up to 50 people outdoors with social distancing still in place. Summer baseball will also be a part of that phase.
The CIAC will allow virtual coaching and conditioning by coaches for all seasons with players beginning June 1. Still, Lungarini feels any teams would need several weeks of conditioning before games begin, especially with most everyone having been stuck at home since mid-March.
“You have to take into strong consideration the conditioning of the athlete,” Lungarini said. “It’s not the best decision to go back to games (right away). Kids need to be reconditioned and need time for skill development.”
If the second phase re-opening goes well, Phase 3 will begin around July 20. That would include up to 100 people allowed in one setting outdoors.
“If we are in Phase 4 of the governor’s plan by late August or early September, we can play our sports as scheduled,” Lungarini said. “If we are in Phase 2 or Phase 3, the restrictions would be much greater than Phase 4.”
Lungarini said earlier this month that schools must be “back on campus” and not distance learning for sports to be played this fall. He feels the seasons will start late to begin with.
“Right now, from the information we have, I think the start of the fall most likely will be impacted. I don’t think schools will be open by Aug. 17,” Lungarini told Hearst Connecticut Media on May 7. “We have to keep in context the primary focus is schools getting prepared for instruction. Once that is determined, we can look at what athletics will be like. At this point, we don’t believe sports in the fall will start on time.”
The scheduled first date for high school sporting events in the fall is September 10. Fall sports include: Football, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls swimming and girls volleyball.
Depending on what phase of re-opening Connecticut is in will also depend upon what sports could be played this fall. The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) came out with a guidance for opening up high school sports on May 19.
The lowest risk sports — the ones that do not share equipment and practice social distancing, determined by the NFHS are as follows: cross country with staggered starts, individual running and throwing events in track and field, individual swimming and golf.
The highest risk sports — where there is constant contact which could lead to the spread and transmission of the Coronavirus — are football, wrestling and lacrosse. Every other sport falls in the moderate risk category.
There are some sports the NFHS lists under moderate risk — like baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, gymnastics and the jumping events in track and field — that “could potentially be considered lower risk with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants,” according to the NFHS.
Those categories by risk lend to the possibility that sports which were cancelled in the spring could be played in the fall, while some fall sports could be moved to next spring. Lungarini said decisions on all of that would need to be made by the first week of August.
“It wouldn’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done (changing sports seasons),” Lungarini said. “We would need to make sure that coaches are available, officials and facilities are available. … Until we know more, we are not changing anything. At this point, if I was asked if we were definitely switching sports, the answer is no. We don’t have anything to tell us playing baseball is OK and football isn’t. We need more information.”
Leagues have already completed their fall schedules, but they have yet to be posted on the CIAC website. League commissioners and athletic directors need to be prepared to redo or add in new schedules if need be.
“No one today has been through anything like this,” South-West Conference commissioner Dave Johnson said. “It’s just so difficult and challenging to prepare for at the same time. I think we are so fortunate to have the leadership we have at CIAC and had there in the past. At the end of the day, they will figure things out.”
SCC commissioner Al Carbone said his league athletic directors have discussed adjusting schedules and to other sports if need be.
“We need to be ready to work with several issues: how to deal with schools that are using distance learning, a late start to the fall, a start then a stop to the season and playing regional opponents to alleviate transportation issues,” Carbone said. “Nothing is ever going to be normal, so we have to make the best of whatever we are dealt, because the alternative is what we just went through in the spring: no sports. And no one wants that.”
Upon the return to in-person athletics, Lungarini’s recommendation would be for coaches to work with groups of no more than 10 to have more structured workouts and limit the risk of exposure if someone were to contract the coronavirus.
There are plenty of other questions without answers: Will schools be back at full capacity this fall? What will bus transportation look like and how will schools be able to transport teams to games while practicing social distancing? And if there is a flare-up of the virus later in the fall season and schools have to return to distance learning, do sports end immediately?
“Playing low-risk to moderate-risk sports, you can end seasons earlier and delay the start of the winter season if necessary without significant impact to either season,” Lungarini said. “The best investment we can make for safe return is to not reduce staff. We need our ADs and our coaches when our kids come back to schools. We can’t just come back for core subjects. We need to come back for things kids are passionate about, which are athletics.
“Doctors and nurses are the heroes in addressing COVID-19. Teachers, administrators and coaches will be the heroes getting us back to our schools returning to normal.”