The morning the CIAC canceled the remainder of the winter sports season, the Milford administration tried to be as proactive as possible to cushion the feelings of its stunned high school athletes.
“We knew they were going to announce it at 11:30 and we called the kids down at 11 o’clock,” Jonathan Law athletic director VJ Sarullo said. “We told all the kids that were still left in their respective state tournaments face-to-face. We didn’t want them to find out on social media.”
The Law girls basketball team, spearheaded by 34 points from Katie Konareski and Maddie Lula, had upset top-seeded Berlin in Class MM and was set to face Kolbe Cathedral in the state quarterfinals. The boys knocked off North Haven and were ready to play St. Joseph in the second round. Law swimmers prepared for state meets.
Gone. Just like that on March 10, because of the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes were crestfallen.
“That was as tough a day as you can imagine,” Sarullo said. “You’re telling seniors that it was the last time you played a basketball game or got into the pool. We felt it was important that they heard it from us.”
“It’s a unique situation, a tough situation, especially talking to the seniors who most likely, are not going to have a spring sport to play,” Ansonia baseball coach Pat Lynch said. “There are no words I can say that make it feel better. I just try to give them a lesson that not everything goes the way you want and let them vent.
“Thinking of every season I had in high school and college and all the great events, stories, games, situations, bus rides, to take one year away, the stories I still tell today wouldn’t have happened. It’s devastating, really.”
Not to be melodramatic — our reality now is our schools will be closed until at least April 20 — you know what would be far worse? Calling up athletes to tell them their teammate or their teammates’ parents or grandparents had died from the coronavirus. As we sit and wait to see if a spring high school season can be salvaged, blunt words are the best words.
On Friday, the CT Association of Athletic Directors tweeted: “Athletic Directors and Coaches should be emphasizing the need for social distancing with their student-athletes. We keep getting reports of students working out in large numbers in preparation for the Spring Season. Kids think they are indestructible and need to be reminded!!!”
Athletic Directors and Coaches should be emphasizing the need for social distancing with their student-athletes. We keep getting reports of students working out in large numbers in preparation for the Spring Season. Kids think they are indestructible and need to be reminded!!!
— CT Association of Athletic Directors (@CTAthleticDir) March 20, 2020
Sarullo is the vice president of the association.
“The most important message we can get out there is we’re all in this together and all the guidelines the state and federal government have put out there are for everybody,” he said. “Student-athletes, parents, coaches, grandparents. We have to do everything we can to push social-distancing, staying home if at all possible.
“We obviously know what we all want. We all want to get back to some sense of normalcy. We’d all like to get back to school, so we can get back to sports. Following the guidelines is only going to help us get back to normalcy quicker.”
Through two weeks of near isolation as a member of the endangered species — 64 and underlying health conditions — I’ve only lost my skull once. That’s when the video from Florida spring break surfaced and Joe Moron Jr. said, “If I get corona, I get corona. I’m not going to let it to stop me from partying.” I’d forgive him for being young and stupid, but I got a solid hunch 40 years from now only one thing will be different. He’ll be old and stupid. That’s if the coronavirus doesn’t track him, his buds and his family down in the next month.
As of Monday afternoon, the number with the coronavirus in Connecticut had grown to 415 with 10 deaths. The numbers around the U.S. are showing that a surprising percentage of younger Americans have been hospitalized with the disease. It’s not only the elderly’s problem. Often the only you-aren’t-indestructible message that teenagers get comes with car crashes during prom season. Not anymore. We all need to spread the message, loud, clear, and the volume all the way up. Six feet away from each other. No large gatherings.
That means no pickup basketball with 10 humans sweating on each other. No lacrosse and baseball captain’s practices. No jamming into a room to lift.
“Social media is our biggest platform to connect with kids right now,” Stamford High AD Chris Passamano said. “We use Instagram, Twitter to tell them. Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.”
Passamano became part of the solution by creating a website for Stamford athletes with at-home workouts. It’s a good idea for all state coaches and ADs.
“I’ve been kind of adding to it each day,” Passamano said. “We’ve sent it out to our kids. Shared it all over town. Here’s everything you need to stay at home and stay in shape. So when we get the call to come back, we’re ready to go, but you haven’t put yourself or others at risk and contributed to spreading this.”
This isn’t an easy time. This is unprecedented. You encourage young people to work out, foster a healthy lifestyle, nurture their social skills. And then out of nowhere you tell them, never mind, go to your room and play video games. It’s crazy.
“It’s not easy as an AD, it’s not easy for us as fathers,” Passamano said. “I’ve got an eighth-grader dying to play baseball. And for seniors, I can’t even imagine. But I can’t ask hundreds of our athletes not to do something and then turn around and do it.”
Passamano said he’s seen a few random kids, but nothing student-organized and that’s a relief for him. Sarullo said he keeps in close touch with Foran AD Anthony Vitelli and from what they have seen Milford kids are adhering to the guidelines. Twitter is used as a reminder. Now that students are on-line learning, there’s another avenue of constant communication.
“When I first reached out to the kids that we’re not starting on the 14th, the first reaction was, ‘We’ll got out together as players,’” said Lynch, whose players did get in 10 Saturdays of winter hitting at an Orange facility. “I stressed to them I know you want to do stuff, but you’re better off doing it in your backyard on your own, with your siblings, someone you live with. Not gather as 5-10-15. From what I know they haven’t. You also can’t monitor them 24-7.”
Lynch works third shift at Medtronic in North Haven. No high school coach can watch kids out of school 24-7.
There are some eyes out there watching around the state. I’ve been tipped a few times. One about a spring high school team’s supposed tryout turned out to be wrong. Still during these times, the threat of turning in violators isn’t such a bad idea. Might save lives.
After working the third shift, Lynch said he was awakened by a call winter sports had been canceled.
“Without knowing all the facts, it really threw me off,” Lynch said. “To be honest, like most of us you react without knowing all the facts. Right when it happened I thought it was a drastic move, not the greatest move. I’m one person. One opinion. Within a day or two of diving in, doing some research, I was off that. I saw the CIAC made a bold decision that turned out to be the right decision. They made an unpopular decision and in this day and age that doesn’t usually happen. I give them all the credit in the world.”
Look, this is going to end and when it does, we can only hope that all the kids who were going to play this spring end up in the sports pages and none in the obituaries.
Wow. That’s maudlin.
What matters is to stay safe, stay home and try to laugh at least once a day. When the social distancing ends and social gatherings resume, it will be time to celebrate. So how about this? All the state athletic directors keep track of their teams that best adhere to the guidelines and let us know at GameTimeCT. We’ll draw one out of a hat. The captains of the winning team get a nice dinner with our GameTimeCT social chairmen Sean Patrick Bowley and Pete Paguaga. Pete will wear a suit and tie. I’ll pick up the tab.
Yes, miracles will happen.