The reaction to the CIAC’s landmark decision to cancel the remainder of its winter state tournaments on Tuesday due to the ongoing coronavirus issue was swift, and at times negative toward the CIAC.
There is plenty left in the aftermath of the decision made in a press conference at CIAC headquarters by executive director Glenn Lungarini. Mostly, it’s coaches having to explain to their teams, especially seniors, that their seasons have abruptly ended.
“The CIAC felt the decision they made was the best for winter sports and the safety of student-athletes,” Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball coach John Dailey said. “What I will say is this is devastating for my team. I’m heart-broken for my eight seniors who have been playing together since they were in the first grade.”
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One of those Ludlowe seniors is Ian Bentley.
“Our entire team, especially the seniors, are super-devastated about the news,” Bentley said. “It definitely sucks to have our season end this way and some of us will never get the chance to play basketball again, which is extremely difficult.”
Other options the CIAC could have considered were postponing the tournaments to a later date or playing the remainder of the tournaments without any fans.
“Obviously the safety of the kids and the community is the number one priority,” Newtown girls basketball coach Jeremy O’Connell said. “To cancel it right away is too bad, I wish they had tried to postpone it and see where we are in a week or two. Again, I understand student and public safety, I just wish they had tried other avenues. Once they cancel, there is no coming back from that.”
Said Notre Dame-West Haven basketball senior Zach Laput: “I’m just completely devastated. Multiple times today we (teammates) cried together. I’ve put in countless hours of work along with my teammates, and to not have a chance at getting a ring is just unbearable.”
Immaculate boys basketball coach Nelson Mingachos is also the athletic director. So he had to tell both the members of his basketball team and hockey players on that co-op team with New Fairfield that their season was over.
“Do I wish that the coaches had more discussion on it with the CIAC? Yes I do. A lot of coaches would have loved to be in an empty gym and give their teams the opportunity to compete,” Mingachos said. “Questions the kids are asking I don’t have answers for. I don’t have answers for my kids because I wasn’t part of the decision-making process.”
The girls hockey state tournament was in the semifinal round. Girls hockey is not a CIAC-affiliated sport, so the CIAC had no jurisdiction on whether that tournament continued or not.
The CHSGHA committee decided right after the announcement that they would discontinue their tournament.
“At the end of the day, it’s tough on everybody, but especially the seniors, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions in life. There’s things out there that are bigger than the event itself, and you’ve got to use your head. We don’t have a vaccine and we don’t know enough about it yet, so making that error on the side of caution is the smart thing,” said New Canaan girls ice hockey coach Rich Bulan. New Canaan was one of the four semifinalists.
SCC commissioner Al Carbone is on that CHSGHA committee. He’s often been outspoken on many high school issues, sometimes not in favor of CIAC decisions.
But this time is not one of them. He noted how certain towns have already canceled school or have limited spectators at after-school activities.
“There are many administrators who are relieved that they didn’t have to make that decision,” Carbone said. “It’s the right decision and a tough decision they had to make for 180 different constituencies. … At some point, you’re not going to have the full boat, you may not have neutral sites (available) and you may not have individual schools (participating).”
Lungarini noted that there had been conversations with member schools about forfeiting upcoming tournament games.
“They forfeit, that’s their decision,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach and athletic director Jason Shea said.
Shea has been one of the more outspoken coaches in any sport on social media regarding the CIAC’s decision. He fully supports the idea of having no fans attend.
Notre Dame and Immaculate are among the schools to have purchased the National Federation of High Schools feed to have installed in their gyms. The feed enables those unable to attend the ability to watch the games on the NFHS feed for a fee.
“(Without fans) it’s a basketball-controlled environment,” Shea said. “If you say a coach with just his players is unsafe, what is safe? How can (students) be in a gym class today?”
Shea noted the CIAC’s edict on Monday that decisions were being left to the member schools.
“Everybody was completely caught off-guard,” Shea said. “No one saw this coming. Not enough neutral sites? That is preposterous. There are no fan minimums, so that makes every gym viable. The idea that there is not enough neutral sites to host thee games is wrong and inaccurate. I have spoken to plenty of people who will do it. There would be no restrictions on who to get in the gym anymore.”
Then Shea asked a question many brought up on social media Tuesday: “Was this about safety of the athlete or can we not sell tickets at games?”
A number of teams met for practice for the final time Tuesday. But teams can continue to practice until the last possible day, which is March 22.
Shea and Notre Dame are practicing for a far different reason. “We refuse to accept this decision. We are going to continue to practice,” he said.
The ramifications of this decision will be felt for a long time.
“We won’t know if it’s a good decision until six months from now, maybe longer,” said Morgan boys basketball coach Frank Rossi, also the director of technology for the Clinton district.“I don’t envy the position both the CIAC and school superintendents across the state are in impacting the kids (with important decisions).”
Staff writers Scott Ericson and Dave Stewart contributed to this story.