It was among the hardest decisions Rich Photos had to make in 40 years in sports, he said Tuesday night, and the president of Southern Connecticut Pop Warner football said he delayed it as long as he thought he could.
Southern Connecticut Pop Warner has canceled its fall season after the state Department of Public Health discouraged tackle football amid the COVID-19 pandaemic.
“My executive board voted two weeks ago to shut the league down. I went against the executive board to keep it going and try to get the kids out to play,” Photos said. “In the towns we have, the majority of them, the number of kids coming out are higher than they’ve been over the past few years.
“Parents aren’t dumb. They understand risks. They understand what’s out there. They’re still putting their kids out there.”
In recent weeks the CIAC, the governing body for high school athletics in the state, and the state Department of Public Health have gone back and forth over whether to allow high school football this fall. The DPH sent the CIAC a letter on Sunday that did not recommend playing full-contact football in the fall season, and that guidance helped lead to Tuesday’s Pop Warner announcement.
“I don’t see them coming off this no-contact perch,” Photos said.
Beyond that, Photos said, logistics got trickier with outdoor private gatherings limited to 100 people. Players arriving for their games would have to stay away from the facility until the previous game’s participants cleared out. Parents probably couldn’t attend, either.
“Kids, coaches, EMTs, officials, you’re already at 85-90 people,” Photos said.
Players had started conditioning on Aug. 3, Photos said.
Southern Connecticut Pop Warner includes teams from places like New London, Manchester, Hartford and New Britain as well as the Bridgeport and New Haven areas, and the Naugatuck River Valley.
It also includes Danbury, where positive COVID-19 tests have gone up in recent weeks. The city shut down its youth sports leagues last week to deal with the jump.
Photos said Southern Connecticut Pop Warner will try to plan a March-June spring season, and discussions about both in-town andflag football for this fall were planned for Wednesday.
“(Canceling) is a tough pill to swallow,” said Stratford Renegades president Kevin DeVitto, whose organization (with a new name this summer, dropping “Redskins”) is one whose numbers were up. “We’ve got over 140 kids, kids on waiting lists to get on teams.”
He said the Renegades have around 100 cheerleaders, as well.
“If you’d asked me back in April, I thought there was no way they’d allow us to play, but I thought as it got closer, my feelings kind of changed, especially with how Connecticut’s numbers have consistently improved,” he said.
The state’s Tuesday data release had 59 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday night, 12 fewer than a month ago, down from a peak near 2,000 in late April. State data attributes 50 deaths to the disease since July 24 for a total of 4,463 since the pandemic reached Connecticut in March.