High school field hockey coaches throughout Connecticut are keeping their fingers crossed.
Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every phase of our lives, and high school sports hasn’t been immune. Throughout the summer there were always questions of whether we would be able to open schools on time in the fall or even have a fall sports season.
Here we are with schools open and sports embarking on a return this fall season, including field hockey, albeit in a unique and evolving environment.
“As far as new COVID regulations, the rules that have been put into place are the obvious ones like masks and social distancing as much as we can,” Newtown field hockey coach Ellen Goyda said. “And sadly, no fans are allowed, but Newtown will be livestreaming games.
“Sanitizing and switching out balls will be implemented. I’ll have adult ball people on the sideline with sanitizing wipes. With this ever-evolving COVID-19, we’re keeping our fingers crossed the girls can play.”
Like all sports, except for football, which is an evolving entity within itself, field hockey opens its season Thursday. The sport itself will look much the same between the sidelines on the field, although there will be four quarters instead of halves with no team timeouts to keep the game moving. But the look outside those sidelines will be quite different.
With the pandemic still very active and all around us, there will be no fans in the stands at many schools. While players on the field won’t need to wear masks, everyone on the sidelines — players on the bench, coaches, scorekeepers, announcers and trainers — will need to wear masks and practice social distancing. No whistles will be blown on the field, but the CIAC 2020 field hockey packet suggests that officials can use hand-held electronic whistles.
“School has been the priority for teachers,” Cheshire field hockey coach Eileen Wildermann said. “Those of us coaching and teaching are trying to get our bearings in school first.
“The practices after school have just been a bonus for us. I think coaching is probably where a lot of us feel most confident, and practice is also where the girls find a safe haven. Sports have been a nice little bubble of normalcy for teachers and students who coach and play.”
Because of the late start with the season, there will be a shortened regular season instead of the usual 16 games, with a maximum of two games a week. Teams can play anywhere from 10 to 12 games in the regular season. For example, teams including Cheshire and Darien have opted for 10 games, and Granby will play 12.
There will be less travel time, with teams only playing games against teams within a 30-mile radius of their school. Due that 30-mile radius restriction, leagues throughout the state have been subdivided into 4-6 team divisions, with teams only playing games within their divisions. For a complete breakdown of how every league for every sport in Connecticut is subdivided, go to this CIAC link: https://www.casciac.org/fallregions.
“In the SWC (South-West Conference) we’re in the division with Bethel, Barlow, Masuk and Weston,” Immaculate field hockey coach Shannon Horosky said. “We’ll be playing those four teams multiple times and I understand why this is being done.
“But I’m a little sad that we won’t be given the opportunity to see the rest of the teams in our league. It’s always great competition when we play New Milford and Newtown.”
Ball girls will not be allowed on the sidelines, with many schools assigning adults to handle the task. Each player must have their temperature taken and go through a COVID-19 checklist before each game and practice. If a person shows signs of sickness, they are asked to stay home.
Players must bring their own bags with equipment with their own water bottles. Nothing can be shared. All balls and equipment used in the game will be sanitized.
Only one captain from each team meets with the officials before the game and there will be no handshaking before or after games.
Because fans won’t be allowed at many games, some teams will be livestreaming their games on their school’s website. Some teams plan to videotape games and then show them later on their school’s website. Other schools are in the process of deciding whether they will tape their games at all.
The regular season will be held from Oct. 1 to Nov. 7. The CIAC will conduct a yet-to-be-determined postseason “tournament experience” with two games between Nov. 7 and Nov. 21.
There is one high school field hockey rule change of note determined by the board of directors of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Goggles are no longer mandatory and players have the option of deciding whether they want to wear goggles during a game.
“I’m taking the directions each day and doing exactly what they (CIAC) want me to do for our sport during this pandemic,” Hand field hockey coach Sue Leckey said. “There is not a lot of opportunity to think.
“We’re just going to be really happy to be out there playing games and we’re going to have a really good time.”