TORRINGTON — Everywhere in this fog of coronavirus, we’re divided by politics and united by despair — financial, employment, family, fate of the country…
If it’s hard, then, to find solace or inspiration nationally in any direction, try looking as close to home as our local high schools — Torrington High School, in this case.
Athletic Director Mike McKenna and his coaches aren’t paid in the summer, when, like school kids, they’re supposed to be on vacation.
Superintendent Sue Lubomski is supposed to have a season to regroup her plans and operations for the system.
Begin, then, with the fact that, since early July, McKenna and many of his coaches, with what McKenna calls the “super support” of Lubomski, have volunteered their time — for free — to get kids out of the house under CIAC guidance, giving them and their parents hope for a bit of normalcy in scheduled, carefully controlled conditioning workouts at the high school.
“We just want to get the kids here, even if it’s only for a month,” said boys soccer coach Mike Fritch at a workout session last week.
That’s kind of the point…”even if it’s only for a month…” But, now, the CIAC’s most recent decision annouced Friday is to put all fall sports workouts on hold until Aug. 24 so the Board of Control can meet with the Connecticut Department of Health.
You want glory in your athletics? Tennyson’s epic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, offers perspective. It’s about a cavalry unit in the Crimean War a few centuries ago in which 600 British cavalrymen charged an impregnable defense against overwhelming odds for a cause in which they believed.
Honestly, it’s hard to find local officials who really believe full classrooms or fall athletics can last more than a month, no matter what the precautions, against coronavirus odds established and re-established all over the country for others who’ve tried it, until we finally get some national control over the disease.
“I trust everyone to make their decisions based on the best information possible,” says McKenna, giving full credit for the CIAC’s hard work in its efforts to extend hope for kids and their parents.
“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” McKenna says. “What am I going to do? Quit? No, I’ll do what I have to do because it’s too important not to.”
That’s how, one presumes, Superintendent Lubomski and coaches like Fritch, Mario Longobucco and Gaitan Rodriguez feel, along with many others volunteering their time this summer.
“They’ve stepped up. I’d walk through fire for them,” says McKenna, whose own free crisis work, as AD and president of the NVL, require three or four times the amount of time and stress as his regular school paid tenure.
Torrington’s regional football grouping under the plan includes MCW United (Wolcott Tech, Housatonic and Wamogo), Gilbert/Northwestern, Wolcott, Watertown and St. Paul for its six-game schedule with one team repeated for each.
The other sports have similar regions with slight variations by sport for their 12 regular-season games/meets.
The CIAC’s mandated two-game “tournament experience” in each sport is apt to work like a league tournament with the top four teams in each region and sport competing in a playoff.
Meanwhile, the cost for precautions like extra janitorial staff, cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment for the whole school system, including the athletic department, is estimated at $1.9 million with no clear answer as to where the money comes from.
With more than a month before the proposed sports season begins (September 24), McKenna is happy with where the system is now.
“It’s good for the kids to be doing something normal, he says.”
Nevertheless, a myriad of important details remains to be worked out — a list of all the things that must be cleaned on a daily basis, transportation issues, the size of teams…
“It’s just a tiny fraction of what Lubomski and her staff are doing,” McKenna says.
Still, McKenna, whose dad was the legendary school athletic doctor/fan Doc McKenna, is one of many seeking a thoughtful balance.
“I grew up in sports,” he says. “I understand kids are missing the experience. But we have to do first things first. Let’s make sure all the public health issues are taken care of.”
That’s where the whole plan becomes monumentally dicey.
“From everybody’s point of view, it’s chaos,” McKenna says in a microcosm of the situation in which we’re all now living, forced to trust everyone else to do simple things like wearing a mask or keeping their social distance while a stranger’s (teammate/opponent’s) breach could bring the sickness home.
One step up on the scale, the problems only increase. As NVL president, McKenna worries about magnified problems in city schools like Waterbury’s or even the individualism of nearby towns.
“Each district is their own little fiefdom,” he says. “If Wolcott, for instance, decides not to play and Torrington does, what do we do then? Torrington can keep fans out because we play on our own property; some other towns can’t because they play at public parks. If a kid can only get to school three days a week, do you play him or her? Is he or she really prepared to play? Are we risking injury?
“The logistics are overwhelming,” he concludes while doing his best to solve them.
In another time, Tennyson honored parallel efforts — in our case, by Governor Lamont and his staff, the CIAC, Lubomski, McKenna, his coaches, the kids and many others — to do the seemingly impossible because it was their job to try.
“Forward the Light Brigade,” Tennyson wrote 170 years ago. “Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why…
“Cannons to right of them, cannons to left of them, cannons in front of them volleyed and thundered; stormed at with shot and shell, boldly they rode and well…
“Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade…”
Call Torrington officials and their peers across the state the Light Brigade in their efforts to give us and our kids some normalcy amid the virus.
“Let’s see what happens in two weeks,” McKenna says.