The governing body for high school sports in Connecticut approved a winter plan Thursday morning that permits the start practice as early as Tuesday for many sports and games as soon as Feb. 8. But the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference also announced it will not hold its winter state championships.
The plan, approved by the CIAC Board of Control, includes no state tournaments in basketball, boys hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming, but a “tournament experience” for March 15-28. Those sports would be allowed up to 12 regular-season games.
Wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance can only conduct small-group conditioning and non-contact skill building. The DPH classifies them higher risk for transmitting droplets, and the state doesn’t allow those sports.
The document, which was finalized with the help of guidance from the state Department of Public Health, also states it is “a fluid document and will be updated as more data, health metrics, and sport specific information become available.”
Individual schools districts control the final decisions of when and whether to participate in sports.
This is the second straight year the CIAC has canceled its winter state championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is now the fourth consecutive season the CIAC has made this decision.
“We continue to anticipate teams will be required to quarantine. There will be disruptions to schools throughout the winter season,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said. “If we maintain a CIAC winter championship, then there is a hard stop date to regular season games that would be a limiting factor at the end of the season.”
Indoor track can start practice as soon as Tuesday, but no meets will be held in February.
“We will re-examine the possibility of having dual meets or smaller group team meets within the league during the month of March, either outdoors or (with) a smaller group at an indoor facility at that time,” Lungarini said. “Through February, it is practice and skill development only.”
The CIAC Board of Control determined the spring season will begin on March 29, the day after the winter postseason experience is scheduled to end. Connecticut was the last state to cancel the entire spring sports season last year.
“The priority of the board was to maintain the spring season as much as we can without interruption,” Lungarini said. The season normally concludes around mid-June.
The Board of Control also decided to cancel the alternate season, which included 11-on-11 tackle football. Lungarini said a good number of athletes would have had to choose between football and a spring sport, or wrestling and a spring sport.
Lungarini also mentioned that high-risk sports cannot be held until at least the end of the winter season (March 28). The alternate season was scheduled to run from March 19 to April 17.
“We certainly understand and empathize that those athletes that would have been able to have some sort of competition in that alternative season will not be able to have that competition,” Lungarini said.
Lungarini also said a major consideration was that a spring alternative season would have forced the CIAC to limit games next fall.
One thing added to the CIAC’s sports plan was a waiver consent for individual districts to use for both athletes and parents to not only understand the COVID-19 protocols, but also to abide by them throughout the winter season.
Lungarini stressed that the Board wanted to provide the student-athletes the best possible scenario to play a full winter season: 12 games plus a league championship.
The CIAC had said since mid-fall that it had planned and desired a winter state tournament before pulling the plug on that option on Thursday, instead allowing the leagues to conduct their own tournaments just like the fall.
But for now, there are no regions. Yes, teams can only play regular-season and tournament games within the league, but the leagues can crown one champion if they desire to. So instead of providing a “hard date” for teams to finish in order to conduct state championships, teams have until March 28 to play its 12 games, plus tournament action.
“We do feel that we are going to be able to maximize playing opportunities and experiences for kids, which we see as a priority right now,” Lungarini said. “We don’t want state tournaments to be a limiting factor in being able to play games.”
This, Lungarini said, will help for teams that have to quarantine for 10-14 days and for school districts that are not ready to practice on Tuesday. Teams need to practice for at least 10 days before a scrimmage and at least 15 before regular-season competition.
Thursday’s COVID positivity rate was 4.37 percent, just a couple of days removed from its high-water mark from the fall and winter at just over 10 percent. Gov. Ned Lamont said the seven-day rate was at 7 percent.
Hospitalizations dropped by 30 Thursday to 1,118. But there are just three non-red towns right now: Warren, Cornwall and Canaan.
“If we weren’t confident we could get it done, we wouldn’t be moving forward with it (the season),” Lungarini said. “Not only are we confident that we can get it done, the guidance from DPH says we can get it done.”
During the fall, Bridgeport and New Haven opted out of playing football and girls volleyball indoors. Hearst Connecticut Media detailed earlier this week that New Haven would assess the COVID data to determine how sports would proceed.
Bridgeport superintendent Michael Testani said the city’s schools just reopened in hybrid form, and his focus is getting schools staff and the vulnerable population in the city vaccinated.
“At this point,” he said, “sports is not even part of the conversation,” Testani said.
For Bridgeport, that’s basically basketball right now: Harding has a wrestling program, and the three schools have cheerleading programs, but those sports were classified as higher risk and won’t be contested. The city was among the earliest to opt out of football and volleyball in the fall.
Masks will be needed to be worn by athletes, coaches and officials for all sports in the moderate-risk category like basketball and hockey.
The CIAC will leave it up to the individual districts for its attendance policies, but in its approved sports plan, it states, in bold letters: “The CIAC position on fan/spectator attendance is that fans should not be allowed at interscholastic contests or practices.”
Both the Jan. 19 practice date and Feb. 8 game date, the document says, “may start later based on district determination.” Decisions now fall to to school superintendents and administrators, determining if their schools and districts can play safely, and for how long.
The state at that point had just made it through a fall season that didn’t start until October and that went off without tackle football, which never got DPH recommendation to play.
The CIAC on March 10, 2020, became the first state governing body to cancel what was left of its winter tournaments because of the pandemic, then was the last to cancel its spring season.