Hillhouse senior Leah Moore is one of the most talented track and field athletes in the state. Opportunities for team and individual accolades await. State records are within reach.
But like thousands of indoor track and field athletes, Moore is forced to wait to compete in Connecticut.
The CIAC, the state’s governing body for high school sports, released its guidelines Thursday for the upcoming winter sports season, a season that had already been delayed since December due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Using Connecticut Department of Public Health guidelines, the CIAC determined that indoor track teams can only hold practices starting Jan. 19 through February with competitive meets not considered until March.
“Competitive meets for the indoor track season will be considered starting in March, but there are no guarantees,” CIAC spokesperson John Holt said. “And they are likely to be outdoor events.”
Leah Moore was taken aback by the CIAC indoor track guidelines, especially since a detailed plan was produced and recently submitted to the CIAC for hosting meets at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. The plan included input from her father, Gary Moore, who has coached at Hillhouse for 27 years.
“I can’t really say that I was surprised by the news as I was prepared for the worst,” said Leah Moore, who recently committed to compete for the University of Kentucky, a Division I program in the powerful Southeastern Conference. “However, I am still very disappointed. For me, it is vital that I am able to compete in meets as often as possible. It helps to keep me in the most competitive mind set all the time, and while I do understand that we are in a pandemic and these decisions aren’t easy to make, I also feel like there has to have been a way for us to at least have some very small scale meets.
Since October, Moore has been competing in regional and national high school events at The Armory in New York and at venues in Virginia. She has witnessed more stringent rules at the events, with fewer participants, all of whom are wearing masks and remain in designated areas to warm up.
“I think that those options would be easy enough to arrange and make the athletes happy while also keeping them safe,” Leah Moore said. “Even though I have been fortunate enough to compete at some meets already, I have to think about the athletes that won’t get that opportunity to compete even after waiting for months.
“What happens to them? Do they just not get a season? And if this is the case then why? If they are willing to follow the safety procedures put in place, then why not come up with a way to do it? Especially when it’s clear to me that it is possible because I’ve seen an efficient system put in place myself at other (out-of-state) venues.”
Gary Moore, who has helped build the Hillhouse boys and girls indoor and outdoor track programs into a state powerhouse, with more than 60 state titles, was “very disappointed” with the CIAC’s decision for the indoor track season.
“I have so many feelings about this, and unfortunately, very few of them are good, and when I say this, I believe I speak for the majority of the track coaches in the state,” Gary Moore said. “First, our sport is and has been classified as a low-risk sport from the beginning of this pandemic. But for some reason, we cannot have track meets.
“Looking at sports that were approved that are charted as medium risk (basketball and hockey), how are they able to have competitions and a low-risk sport can’t? I am baffled.”
Gary Moore said sports being medium risk are listed on the state site as having close and sustained contact. Low risk is listed as social distancing that can be done individually with no sharing of equipment.
“Even if there were concerns about some of the (track) events, that’s understandable but for the majority of them, there is zero contact,” Gary Moore said. “I think before there is a turnover in basketball, before you can steal the ball, it’s going to be cleaned off before you can fast break and attempt to score? That’s highly unlikely.
“If medium contact sports like basketball and hockey‘s proposal was to have everyone wear masks, then track and field can do the same in every event which I have witnessed. It is upsetting to see states like New York, Ohio, Virginia, and now Massachusetts, to name a few, host track meets.”
The DPH recommendations were against the operation of traditional large, multi-school indoor track meets for the winter season.
Gary Moore believes it comes down to two items.
“First, the powers that be do not understand that our sport is extremely flexible in how we can conduct contests and do them safely,” Gary Moore said. “I have personally seen and spoke to people from some of the states listed, and they have not had a single issue with the meets in regards to safety and having multiple individuals compete in their events.
“All of those states have put in place a rotating system so that the number of participants can not exceed 15-20 kids in a particular event and there is 99.9 percent no physical contact in any of those events such as high jump, shot put, long jump, sprints and hurdles to name a few.”
Gary Moore said the Floyd Little Athletic Center proposal submitted by Bob Davis, the track coordinator/supervisor for the venue, states running events could be conducted in every other lane.
“In most cases, you would only have 15-20 people in spaces at that time, with a total of 60-80 people in the building at one time in a building that has a capacity of 3,000,” Gary Moore said. “Even if you looked at the state guidelines of numbers of people allowed for indoor gatherings we would fall well under the 50 percent of the max capacity the state recommends. We estimated we would be at or under 10 percent at any given time. Once that event is completed, you would have to leave, and it would allow for any cleaning that is needed, and the next group enters.
“We had a small committee of coaches put together a six-page document with a plan we copied from New York and submitted it to the powers that be (CIAC), and the response was very favorable. For them to come back and say you have to wait until March to have a meet as a team possibility is disappointing.”
Gary Moore wonders if the detailed plan put together by Davis was properly considered.
“It leads one to wonder if the document was thoroughly read or put into the proper hands of those that would make these ultimate decisions, “ Gary Moore said. “Or if there is a lack of understanding of the dynamics of track and field and the things that we could do to keep kids and coaches safe within it while competing.
Moore addressed the concerns of multi-team meets by explaining the proposal included restricting the number of schools participating, grouping schools based on region and limiting the number of people in the building at one time based on the state health department recommendations.
“I ask myself, what do our authorities here in Connecticut know that these other governing bodies in other states do not know,” Gary Moore said.
He also referred to a study by the University of Wisconsin which suggests high school sports have not spread the coronavirus by following protocols to reduce the risk of transmission. Gary Moore said each of the listed protocols were included in the Floyd Little Athletic Center plan.
“We have a space with newly installed ventilation and is over 120,000 square feet that can fit a capacity of 3,000 people, so social distancing would not be an issue,” Gary Moore said. “Along with the participants and coaches wearing masks and 90 percent of the events in track and field, there is no physical contact among the participants. I, along with other coaches, do not understand the (CIAC) decision.”