As frustration and anxiety mounted among Connecticut’s high school athletes, coaches and parents over the week-long pause of training activities, the CIAC said it would be meeting with the state’s Department of Health Thursday to discuss the department’s recommendations that certain high-risk sports be postponed to the spring.
The CIAC’s paused its fall sports plan on Friday, just three days before the official start of cohort practices in football, after the DPH released a statement recommending against playing football and volleyball this fall, and postponing the start of any interscholastic sport activities, including conditioning and practice sessions, until at least two weeks after the reopening of in-person instruction in schools.
CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said he heard back from the DPH Tuesday morning and that the joint meeting would take place Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The late start time was in coordination with everybody’s schedules, he said.
“We’re grateful they’ve been able to accept our invitation to sit in on Thursday’s meeting and look forward to discussing their recommendations,” Lungarini said.
Lungarini didn’t have a timeline of how the CIAC would proceed after its meeting with the DPH. Under the CIAC fall plan, Football is now scheduled to begin its first practices in cohorts of 15 on Aug. 24 and other sports are set to begin Aug. 27. Full teams and full contact practices are set for Sept. 11.
A few school districts have already pulled the plug on some or all of their fall sports in 2020 and others were mulling their options individually as school re-opening plans began rolling out statewide.
Lungarini said the CIAC will support any school districts’ decision on whether or not they want to play sports this fall, but he asked that they wait a bit longer before making a final decision.
“(Schools should) allow the CIAC and DPH to get together to discuss their positions at this meeting, which will ultimately provide for districts to make the choice that’s best for them going forward,” Lungarini said.
On Friday, New Haven announced it would not allow any contact sports games or practices indefinitely as the city debated on whether it would open the school year with distance learning. Bridgeport followed by canceling football and volleyball. Both decisions followed the Department of Health’s recommendations sent to the CIAC.
Other state school districts have begu n to follow suit. On Monday, Region 14’s Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury announced it, too, would be postponing all sports for the 2020 fall season.
Coventry opted to delay all sports an additional two weeks, the Hartford Courant reported Tuesday.
Region 12, which covers Shepaug High School in Washington, said it would be following the CIAC guidelines in its announcement that it would begin the school season with in-person learning.
Other than New Haven, Southern Connecticut Conference commissioner Al Carbone said he wasn’t aware of any school district considering postponing fall sports on its own. FCIAC commissioner Dave Schulz said “some” schools were considering it.
Lungarini reiterated that the CIAC had been in contact with advisors from Department of Health throughout the process of crafting a fall sports plan, in addition to the CIAC’s own medical advisors.
“When CIAC approved our official fall sports plan on July 30, we did so with the knowledge and understanding that the plan was previously reviewed with DPH and the rules committee,” he said.
“We received no concerns.”
But when the DPH released its recommendation saying football and volleyball should be postponed, a day after the Board of Control voted unanimously to proceed, Lungarini said the CIAC was compelled to pause to review the new stance.
“What’s important to me is CIAC recognizes the value of the DPH position and appreciates the work that is done and grateful opportunity to meet with them on Thursday to better understand their position on all fall sports as expressed in their letter,” Lungarini said.
The latest pause created yet another fierce backlash against the CIAC, similar to the one that followed the cancelation of the winter tournament season when the pandemic reached Connecticut in March.
This one might be more intense, Lungarini suggested.
“I can tell you, the response to t he decision has had greater volume than when we canceled winter sports in March,” he said.
One letter Lungarini responded to came from Brady Lafferty, a soon-to-be senior quarterback at Southington, who expressed his disappointment in the delay and announced he was organizing a protest for Thursday morning at CIAC headquarters in Cheshire, one that was met with support by a number of state football coaches and athletes.
Us athletes need to unite together, and have our voices heard. We plan to organize a protest @ the CIAC headquarters on Thursday, 8/20 @ 10:00 A.M. Please spread the word and come to show your support in protest of resuming the preparation of a hopeful upcoming season! #WearAMask
— Brady Lafferty (@_bradylafferty) August 17, 2020
“We are very disappointed that the start of our season has been delayed once more,” Lafferty wrote. “Most of us train year round at our sport and (there are) many of us who have goals to play our sports at a collegiate level.
“For us seniors, this our last opportunity to play. For many of us, college coaches are going to make scholarship decisions based on how we perform this season.”
Lungarini responded by welcoming Lafferty and other students to the CIAC if they wanted to express their views and frustrations and, in addition to taking distancing precautions and wearing masks, asked him and peers to have focused questions ready and meet him with “mutual respect and understanding that these are difficult times and complex decisions for everyone, including you, our student-athletes.”
“Your voice is important and should be heard,” Lungarini wrote.
“CIAC recognizes this is extremely frustrating for our athletes as well as coaches and athletic directors who have been in safe, cohabited experiences since July 6,” he said Tuesday. “We believe in value in athletics and the need for our kids to have structured activities outside of the school day and will continue to provide them the best opportunities we can.
“We feel our direction has been consistent.”
Thirty-six states have opted to modify their fall sports seasons, including Connecticut. Fifteen of those states, including the District of Columbia, have postponed their football seasons to 2021.
On Monday, New Jersey reaffirmed its commitment to play fall sports in 2020, including football, even if schools opt for distance learning.
Massachusetts, meanwhile, inched closer to making a decision when the MIAA’s COVID-19 task force recommended pushing the football season to late February.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced all sports in that state would be played this fall.
None of Connecticut’s colleges or prep schools will be playing football this fall. The University of Connecticut was the last to cancel football. The NEPSAC, the conference governing New England prep school sports, canceled its 2020 fall sports tournaments back in July. The Founders League announced it would not hold fall sports.
Article updated Aug. 20 with clarification on the NEPSAC, which has canceled its fall sports, not all sports. The Founder’s League, with schools in the NEPSAC, has canceled its fall season.