NEW CANAAN — New Canaan’s annual Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 football tournament continues to be in a holding pattern, with both the date of competition, as well as the shape of teams, still be be determined.
Despite that uncertainty, Chris Silvestri, New Canaan’s defensive coordinator who has directed the tournament the past few seasons, feels the event is needed as much as ever.
“This year, we really, really want to have this; we just need it,” Silvestri said. “The kids want it, the families want it, and I think they’re comfortable with it.”
Whenever the tournament is played, there will be major changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing protocols, masks, hand sanitizer, and roster sizes.
The tournament is still tentatively scheduled for July 17 and 18 in New Canaan, but could be moved to early August, as the state continues with its reopening phases. Connecticut is currently in Phase 2, which began on June 17, and some youth camps and leagues, including those for baseball, softball and lacrosse, have already begun.
Connecticut will likely begin Phase 3 of reopening in early July.
“As of right now, we’re still on (for July 17-18), but there’s a better than 50-50 chance that we’re going to have to move it to August 7 and 8,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “We’ve already been told we’re limited to 20 teams, which we have, but when we change the date, some may not be able to make it. We’ll see.”
According to the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS), football is considered a high-risk sport, with 7-on-7 football in the moderate risk sport category, so New Canaan is trying to work with both factors.
“We’re finding out and working with it the best we can as far as what the NFHS guidelines consider a moderate-risk sport as opposed to a high-risk sport, and how other high-risk sports, like lacrosse, have navigated this in June,” Silvestri said.
Certainly, if the tournament is played, it will look different than in recent years. Last summer, 32 teams participated with Bloomfield winning the championship. This year, the field will be limited to 20 teams and will be more localized.
“There was a request to make it as local as possible,” Silvestri said, adding that the “usual cast of characters from Fairfield County,” including New Canaan, Greenwich and Darien, have committed.
Rosters will be limited to 15 players each, with three coaches per team, with the smaller squads leading to fewer people on the field at any one time. Morning and afternoon sessions are in the plan, with each session including five teams on Dunning Field and five teams on the Water Tower Turf Field.
“That gives us a lot of spacing and more efficiency in the tournament itself,” Silvestri said. “That’s kind of how we’re planning to run it and there’s also pick-up and drop-off points and then no spectators.”
Silvestri added that if the tournament is moved to August, it could allow for more teams with larger rosters.
Social distancing will be observed, and coaches will wear masks, with players wearing their helmets. Each team will be asked to bring hand sanitizer and water, as the usual water stations will not be available.
Each team will also be responsible for cleaning its sideline area.
“Everyone we’ve spoken to about it, coaches and players, are very, very mindful about things, like the 15-man roster,” Silvestri said. “The thing we understand is this is about safety, nobody really knows everything, so we are being careful about it. If we have to move it, we have no problem with moving it and that looks like it could be a very real possibility.”