The mental health of our high school students is as important as their physical health. So imagine being one of the thousands of teenagers around Connecticut who so badly want to play football and other sports this fall.
Their minds have been toyed with and their emotions have been hammered every which way by adults — professional educators, medical experts, government officials who are paid to know better.
On July 31, with the CIAC plan announced for the go-ahead on a delayed fall sports season, spirits were lifted with promises of six football games and two “tournament-like experiences.”
Last Monday, those spirits slid and were left conflicted when the CIAC football committee recommended 9-1 with a few abstentions to push the sport to the spring.
Suddenly, surprisingly on Wednesday the CIAC Board of Control, which ostensibly determines who plays and who doesn’t, voted to go ahead with all fall sports. You could hear the football huzzahs from Griswold to Greenwich.
Except later that night there came a report from the The Hartford Courant the Board of Control had voted 17-0 without receiving a written recommendation from the state Department of Health. The DPH recommended not to play football and girls volleyball this fall, but to go ahead with the other sports. It turned out CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini had not asked for that written recommendation from the state epidemiologist until 1:49 a.m. Wednesday, hours before the Board of Control meeting.
What? What a debacle.
Imagine being the quarterbacks in the FCIAC, the linebackers in the SCC, the tackles in the CCC and the running backs in the SWC and ECC. We love our kids, right? We want to do what’s right for them, correct?
So why are were screwing with their minds?
Wait, we’re not done. The Board of Control held an emergency meeting Friday, excluding consultants (perhaps to control news leaks), and, yes, GameTimeCT broke the news early anyway. All sports have been put on pause until Aug. 24 so the CIAC can discuss its recommendations over the coming week.
What’s the next play. A butt fumble by Mark Sanchez?
The words of WestConn professor Shane Murphy rang in my ears. The former head of sport psychology for the U.S. Olympic Committee and an author of many books and scientific journals on the subject stressed to me last week that high school students can handle the truth from adults.
What happens when the adults botch the process and can’t agree on the truth?
Sports are vital to the development of our youth in so many great ways. Let’s stop pointing fingers at who loves and hates sports. It’s a contemptible tactic.
This is about the health and safety our most precious commodity: the next generation.
This is a time for transparency.
This is a time for strong leadership and firm decision making.
And we’re getting precious little of it.
“To say frustrated would be an understatement,” North Branford superintendent of schools Scott Schoonmaker said. “I think we’re all looking for guidance, direction and consistency and it’s just been all over the place.”
Schoonmaker made it clear he’s not pointing solely at the CIAC.
“But we’re just tearing kids’ hearts out.”
Schoonmaker was listed on the Board of Control. He also has one son who plays football at Michigan, another at Saint Anselm and a third at Xavier High. Well, it turned out he hasn’t been on the B of C (as a non-voting member) for some time. The CIAC hadn’t removed his name.
I reached out to 10 members listed on the B of C. Greenwich headmaster Ralph Mayo and East Haven principal Vin DeNuzzo declined comment. Over 24 hours, several others didn’t get back to me. These are the principals, the voting members of the B of C, from the public schools in the Hearst Connecticut circulation area. The ones who serve people reading this. The Courant had a similar problem. Some administrators pointed to Lungarini for comment.
This is a problem. The CIAC, a private nonprofit, serves the member schools. The CIAC administrators don’t make the rules. Its members do. Lungarini pointed out Saturday he has made himself available day and night — very true. He also doesn’t vote on the Board of Control, yet he is the spokesman on this explosive topic for those who serve the taxpayers and parents of their school districts. We need to hear from them, too.
Lungarini is entangled in that 1:49 a.m. mess and trying to explain why a vote was rushed. One unfortunate quote made him sound like it was more pressing to pass out shoulder pads than getting expert advice from doctors.
We also have Lungarini talking on multiple occasions of how youth sports have been played around Connecticut through the summer, including high-risk sports such as hockey and basketball, without COVID-19 problems linked to those sports. Well, it has surfaced that several kids from New York who played in a state elite tournament July 31-Aug. 2 in Connecticut tested positive for COVID-19.
No, this doesn’t mean the CIAC plan to keep competition in tight in-state pods won’t work. It does show how contagious the disease is and the importance of accurate information.
Xavier’s Dave Eustis did speak to me. He is headmaster of a Catholic school. Stafford athletic director Damian Frassinelli spoke to me. He is a voting member of the football committee and non-voting member of the B of C.
Frassinelli explained how he had been on the CIAC fall sports startup committee, designed to put together the packet for a return to play during COVID. He said it was his belief the plan was submitted to Gov. Lamont’s reopening group. Not the Department of Health.
“The response was it would be best if we started right away, because the numbers won’t get better,” Frassinelli said “But that was almost at the same time Dr. (Ezekiel) Emmanuel spoke.”
An oncologist and bioethicist from Penn, Emmanuel warned against playing contact sports this fall at a Lamont press briefing.
“If one state group says delay to spring and the other says open right now there’s a bit of confusion in messaging,” Frassinelli said.
Eustis also was on the fall committee that he said included CIAC medical board people. He said the feeling definitely was if they were going to play football it was better in the fall when the COVID numbers were down. They don’t know what they’ll be in March.
Connecticut House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Berlin football coach, told Hearst on Friday, “For the DPH to wait so long with a recommendation, one that was contrary to what they’d been telling us for weeks, doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The CIAC has received medical advice from its consultant Stephanie Arlis-Mayor, chief of athletic medicine at Yale Health, and the Connecticut State Medical Society’s Sports Medicine Committee. Lungarini also said he has kept in communication with state officials.
Frassinelli said he felt “from the get-go” football would not be played. Representing the CT Association of Athletic Directors on the football committee, he abstained from the vote. He said he doesn’t want to speak for all ADs across the state on the biggest decisions without a full survey. The other sports committees subsequently voted to play.
“If the football committee believed they were the only sport moving to the spring, I think the vote would have been different,” Frassinelli said. “Nobody wants to be the only group that is shipped off.
“The reality, I think, is there was an overreaction to the leak that came from the football committee meeting. The Board of Control was called for Wednesday, they had to take an emergency vote, based on what was just a football request.”
If this seems like a mess, it is because it is.
“We need clarity, we need go or no go,” Eustis said. “In Friday’s (B of C) meeting, it was, ‘Let’s get the medical board and the DPH at the table and try to hash this out.’”
If the CIAC group has one medical opinion and the DPH another, how do they negotiate? This isn’t buying a car. It’s young people’s lives.
“I don’t know if I’d go against any of the DPH recommendations,” Frassinelli said. “Whether you completely agree or not, if something went wrong you are in the limelight in a very bad way.”
“If the DPH said we’re not bending on football and volleyball, we don’t really have a choice,” Eustis said. “The superintendents have got to follow what the DPH is saying.”
Eustis, a former college football coach, said if it was decided not to have football, perhaps 7-on-7 passing leagues and limited combines to showcase players for college coaches could be worked out.
Some are for calling off all sports. Some are for no sports being called off. Others, like me, are in between. Unless Gov. Lamont steps in — at this point anything is possible — and points out the CIAC doesn’t have legal authority to make the call, it’s hard to see all sports will be stopped. Unless the CIAC keeps screwing up and, think about this, superintendents and Boards of Education, who do have the final say over their districts, start one by one canceling. New Haven and Bridgeport did so Friday.
North Branford is planning full attendance, Stafford a hybrid model. The starting dates for school districts are all over the place. Two weeks into the school year, we will have some excellent data on how we’re doing with COVID. Yes, COVID can spike at any time, but we need that information. It would be a great compass.
Cross country dual meets and girls swimming (provided facilities are straightened out) are a yes for me. I want to hear from the doctors about soccer and field hockey. Why they are a go and volleyball is a no-go? Football, 11 on 11 tackle, is a no for me. Period.
Eustis makes a point. Schools across the state will open their ventilated gyms to help spread out students from the cafeteria during lunchtime. If it’s good for 150 hungry students, why is bad for six volleyball players on each side of the net?
Football may or may not be played, but political football is in playoff form. It had better end, or the CIAC as we know it may be history.
“You want sad?” said Frassinelli, who was not in the meeting Friday. “We’re supposed to start football operations on Monday. It’s Friday at 3 p.m. when we get guidance not to start activities. That is so unfair to the kids. So unfair.”