The spacious 120,000 square-foot Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven typically hosts 70 to 80 percent of the boys and girls high school indoor track meets in Connecticut, with 30-35 events held each winter season.
While there will still be the usual running and field events at the facility if there is a winter season, the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic will have its impact on the meet’s environment. This includes the possibility of a hybrid effort to mitigate the spread of the virus with some running events held outside across the street at the track facility at Bowen Field.
The earliest practice can begin for winter sports in Jan. 19.
For more than the past month, New Haven athletic director Erik Patchkofsky, Floyd Little Athletic Center track meet supervisor-coordinator Bob Davis and Hillhouse track coach Gary Moore have worked on a plan for the winter season. Davis stresses the developed plan, which has been pitched to CIAC officials, is not etched in stone and continues to evolve as the pandemic evolves.
Davis has led the development of the plan.
“We have a drafted plan, nothing has been officially approved and everything is still in the discussion stage,” said Davis, who has been the Floyd Little Athletic Center track meet supervisor-coordinator since it opened in 2002. “We tried to cover all the bases and all the potential scenarios and recently pitched the plan to the CIAC. The ultimate approval of the plan will be a lengthy process.
“Before any of that approval process can even begin, we need to get the final guidelines from the Connecticut Department of Health to see where any adjustments are needed. After that, the CIAC will produce its own guidelines and it will need to officially approve our plan. Then the plan has to be approved by the New Haven Health Department and then we need final approval by the New Haven Board of Education.”
The planning process began in earnest more than a month ago, but the initial stage started in October when The Armory track facility in New York started holding events. Moore knows officials there and attended three meets in October and November. The Armory model became the starting point for creating a plan.
“The Armory is a little different than what we will do because their meets are focused on individual athletes, not team competition,” Moore said. “But they have been doing a real good job the way they conduct the meets. They limit the number of kids who compete in each event, only two events are allowed per athlete and after you compete in your final event of the day you need to leave the building.
“At The Armory they can host 6,000 people. But only 200 people are allowed in The Armory at one time now and there are no fans. They have a good system that works, and while the numbers are limited, people are just happy their kids can compete. So that became a starting point for the Floyd Little Athletic Center plan.”
The FLAC plan also calls for limited numbers. No fans will be allowed and only 100-150 people will be allowed in the building at one time, depending on what the DPH guidelines indicate.
All large meets involving 20-30 schools will not be held, including the New Haven Invitational, Elm City Invitational, SCC Coaches Invitational, Shoreline Invitational and the Freshman/Sophomore Novice Invitational held on Martin Luther King Day.
Most meets will be dual meets with some meets having potentially a maximum of 6-10 teams depending on state guidelines. Roster sizes will be limited and only athletes competing in an event can be on the main floor. Any warmups prior to an event need to be done outdoors.
The bleachers on the second floor will have assigned seating for each athlete and will adhere to social distancing. After an athlete competes in his or her final event of the meet they need to leave the building and either go on their bus and wait or get picked up by their parents.
There will also be a preliminary process before each meet.
Registrations will be done online. Roster names need to be submitted to help with the assigned seating process. There will be a COVID-19 checklist that needs to be completed online prior to the meet.
When athletes walk into the building, they need to stand in front of one of the three monitors at the entrance that register temperatures.
Track events have also been rated depending on the contact nature of the event. Running events are considered first tier events with limited contact. Three field events — high jump, long jump and pole vault — are second tier and have their own issues. Only 10 jumpers will be allowed on the main floor at a time and spaced out for social distancing.
Measuring long jump distances will be done electronically.
Davis and Moore have come up with an innovative way to allow the high jump and pole vault to be held. Instead of all the athletes landing on the same mat, each team will need to bring a tarp to be placed over the mat prior to their athlete’s jump or vault. After their athlete lands, the team removes their tarp and the next team lays down their own for their athlete.
When it comes to the shot put, considered a first tier event, all athletes need to bring their own implement.
Holding relay races have provided another challenge. With athletes passing a baton among each other one idea is to have the relay athletes wear gloves. But there was another discussion where gloves might not be needed since the batons would only be handed off to athletes from the same team.
Ultimately, whatever guidelines the DPH or CIAC comes up with in this area will be implemented.
Depending on the state guidelines and how many athletes will be allowed in the building, there might be a hybrid-type of meet structure that would force some track events to be held outdoors across the street from the FLAC at the track facility at Bowen Field.
“The possibility of holding some events outdoors has been part of the discussion,” Davis said. “When the state health department comes out with its more specific guidelines, if they limit the number of people we can have in the building to around 50, we may have to consider doing some events outdoors. This time of year you want to avoid that, but everything depends on the upcoming state health guidelines and no one knows when those guidelines will be released.”
Moore said going outdoors is not the right thing to do.
“If you do both indoor and outdoor competition, then it’s not indoor track,” Moore said. “There is a big difference. You run faster outdoors and it isn’t indicative of how you compete indoors. You also need to take into account the weather. For me, it’s not an option to do any events outside in my opinion.”
Like Hillhouse, Wilbur Cross indoor track coach Travis Gale and his team calls the Floyd Little Athletic Center home. Gale believes Davis and Patchkofsky have been working diligently to make the indoor track season happen at the facility.
“Safety is their, and obviously my, number one concern about the indoor track season,” Gale said. “I think their proposed plan is possible. I also know that the effort and support will be there in order for it to work. This is something we have never experienced, but we know if Floyd Little Athletic Center is allowed to host an indoor track meet, it will be done because of the work and guidance of all involved.”
Gale also thinks if it was necessary the hybrid concept of holding events indoors and some running events outdoors could work.
“I would love to see my athletes compete and race, as well as other teams in our state,” Gale said. “If and when teams are allowed to get together and practice outside during the indoor season, why not compete outside, especially distance events, in my opinion. The more racing that is done the more athletes can improve and obviously be involved. So I am all for running and racing outside, weather permitting, with cold obviously the biggest factor.
“When it comes to conditioning, practice, meets when and if allowed, I know my team will be ready to go all in. I would hope other teams would be as well.”
There are also the sanitation needs as well during meets. Sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the facility. Areas that need it will be constantly sanitized, including starting blocks that will be wiped down after every use.
During meets the events will be split up with only two field events going on at the same time. Although not etched in stone, a typical meet might have the high jump and shot put from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. along with certain running events. At 11 a.m. you would have the pole vault and long jump and remaining running events.
The proposed plan has been pitched to CIAC assistant executive director Henry Rondon, who oversees boys and girls indoor track among other sports. He is pleased with the efforts of Patchkofsky, Davis and Moore.
“They have been working on their plan a while now and they have tried to cover all the bases,” Rondon said. “More importantly, when they are able to implement it, it will work. The idea has been floated about having some events held at the outdoor track. The key is finding the best way to have a low-risk environment. The indoor-outdoor scenario provides an interesting dynamic. But there are also other variables to consider like the weather.
“From our standpoint at the CIAC, it’s still a wait and see situation to see what we will be allowed to do from the state. We don’t know when the state will do their next updated guidelines. The first step is getting that green light from the state. Right now, we’re more concerned with the big picture. ”
Bethel High has a state-of-the art indoor track facility that hosts large meets and also is in the same wait-and-see mode.
“We are waiting to get final recommendations from the CIAC about mitigation strategies for the indoor track season,” Bethel athletic director Mark Caron said. “We are monitoring COVID cases closely over the next four weeks before we decide how to proceed with the SWC indoor track meets.
“We will certainly not be able to have full league invitationals like we hosted last year. But we are open to the prospects of holding dual meets at our facility if the CIAC approves an indoor track season and the Bethel Health Department gives us final approval in January.”
The FCIAC has scheduled meets at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in the past. Danbury indoor track coach Rob Murray believes it is important to be able to offer some form of season for the athletes.
“I ultimately believe we should offer some form of a season to the winter/indoor track and field athletes for social, emotional and physical reasons,” Murray said. “I believe the fall was successful as I coached cross country, even though it was not a normal season. The winter season can also help these athletes train and prepare for a spring track and field season that should be safer with it being outdoors again and vaccines starting to become prevalent in communities.”
For the Floyd Little Athletic Center, the first step has been taken by pitching the current draft of the plan to Rondon and the CIAC.
“My main goal is to give seniors the opportunity to compete,” Davis said. “Our events will be smaller and coaches have to understand that their roster size for a meet has to be reduced with only one or two athletes competing in an event. We are trying to be as creative as possible to make this all work so the kids can compete and be in a safe environment.