Because Connecticut’s Dept. of Health decided the risk was too great during the COVID-19 pandemic, football hasn’t been played at most state high schools since November 2019 — more than 15 months ago.
Now, with cases falling everywhere, vaccinations on the rise and Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision to allow all sports across the state to play beginning March 19 as part of his reopening plan, the reality that football will likely return this fall is coming more into focus.
But by the time high school programs are expected to return to the fields in August, it will have been more than 21 months — nearly two years — since players will have received any meaningful instruction to prepare them for the fast-paced action of varsity play.
And that’s just for the few kids who actually saw varsity action. Sophomores in 2019 will be seniors. Freshmen will be juniors. Incoming freshmen and sophomores? They will have received precisely zero varsity instruction, save for conditioning drills during last year’s limited, 7-on-7 season. Certainly not blocking and tackling.
Coaches want to get back to blocking and tackling fundamentals of 11-vs.-11 football as soon as they possibly can.
The Fairfield County Athletic Conference (FCIAC) submitted a proposal last week to ask the CIAC to bring back a 10-day spring football option for late may and early June. It mirrors a similar one proposed by Ansonia’s Tom Brockett and the Naugatuck Valley League.
The CIAC’s Board of Control is expected to examine and vote on the spring football proposal during a Wednesday meeting. This comes nearly two months after the board canceled plans to hold an alternative spring football season.
“Once they canceled spring season for football — and I understand, they could barely get winter sports off — we got together as a league and we figured we needed to spend time with our kids,” Trumbull coach Marce Petroccio said. “Kids have lost an entire year of development. So we’re asking for 10 days for the opportunity to coach our kids.
“So we just feel that’s of utmost importance to us.”
For several decades, Connecticut was one of a few states that allowed spring football. Over the last 10 years, however, the CIAC gradually allowed programs to either participate in spring or opt for an additional week of training in August.
With more and more programs opting for the extra time in August — some so it wouldn’t interfere with the end of the spring season — the CIAC voted to eliminate spring practices starting in 2021.
Under the proposal, spring football in 2021 would look similar to previous years. Beginning any time after Memorial Day, programs would get 10 days of instruction, slowly introducing pads, helmets, blocking and tackling. Full contact would be limited to 120 minutes over that time.
“We put a proposal together we felt that’s logical and makes sense and follows what we’re doing now,” said Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti, a former football coach himself who brought the proposal to CIAC on behalf of his league. “We don’t want it to interfere with spring — every school can kind of look at it in their own way. We’re also looking to extend it into summer. We’d be done before the CIAC’s calendar year.”
The football proposal is one of many the Board of Control will examine during Wednesday’s meeting. It is also expected to hear proposals from all of the CIAC’s spring sports committees on how they will conduct the 2021 season under the new COVID-19 guidance from the Dept. of Health, released on Friday.
“The Board of Control has a lot cooking on its plate,” Marchetti said. “(The football proposal) is on the agenda as well as all the other sports getting ready for spring. We’ll see where it goes.”
While acknowledging some of the issues that contributed to spring football’s demise, New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli insisted that spring practices weren’t for his upperclassmen, but rather for his underdeveloped underclass.
“It’s an opportunity to teach fundamentals to kids that you really don’t get a chance to spend time with during the season when you’re getting ready for games against Greenwich, Trumbull or Darien,” the 40-year head coach said.
“I want my kids playing spring sports,” he said. “Besides, I already know what my two-time all-state receiver who is playing lacrosse can do in football. I mean, (former quarterback) Drew Pyne spent our springs coaching our younger kids. This is for the younger kids, some who might not even know how to put pads on.”
In a potential post-COVID 2021 football season, it especially will be critical for football players who will be expected to take the field in varsity games after nearly two years off.
“When you think about it, you’ve got freshmen this year who haven’t even put pads on in 90 percent of the (state’s) programs,” Petroccio said. “Now, you may need to count on that kid to play varsity in a very competitive situation. If you don’t have the opportunity to physically and mentally prepare them for a season, I think you could look at situation where it’s going to be rough.”
Marchetti said getting the spring time to reacclimate after nearly two years away would be beneficial for every football program in the state.
“I think our coaches are of the belief that they need to get instructional time with their kids,” Marchetti said. “We want to carve out a way for that, without the added pressure of preparing for the season right around the corner in August.
“Even if we’re starting again after 16 months, that’s a lot of catching up to do.”
Marchetti added that it would help in other areas. For example, Pat Miller, whom Marchetti hired as Norwalk’s head coach in January 2020, has yet to coach his team aside from the CIAC’s stripped down, 7-on-7 scrimmages last fall.
Marchetti also said it would benefit underprivileged schools, whose team parents don’t have the resources to send their kids to summer training camps.
“Let’s face it, for the traditional football schools, there’s a big faction of kids who can go to camp all summer as long as they have the financial capabilities,” Marchetti said. “In most other parts of the state that’s not an option. Sending kids off to camp is not something they can do.
“So, what better way to get reacclimated to the game of football than to be with their high school coaches for two weeks in an instructional environment. We just want our coaches to get their hands on the kids and reacclimate themselves.”