As soon as the expected final decision from the CIAC came down Wednesday that there would be no CIAC sponsored 11-on-11 tackle football this fall, the wheels went into motion in some communities to try to get their players on the field in some form.
Now, athletic directors, coaches and some youth leagues are looking for ways to allow football to be played as either a club sport within the high schools or as an extension of private youth leagues.
“There has been a lot of talk going around about club football. It was premature until today. I expect talks will now take place in earnest,” said Shelton Athletic Director John Nisiki. “Right now, I don’t have a lot of information. We haven’t formed one here. I’ve heard there are groups out there looking to put teams or leagues together. It might be like AAU.”
For the players, once again their spirits are being lifted by any chance they can play.
“People have been talking about (being able to play a club season). Everyone here just wants to play and any way, shape or form that happens, we are excited to do so,” said New Canaan senior WR/DB Bates Grigsby. “We have been playing our whole lives together. Just to have another chance at a senior season with these guys would mean the world to us. We are just keeping our fingers crossed. Hopes are high. It’s frustrating to not already be in the full swing of things but we are just happy to be out here together.”
The idea of it being a club sport run through the schools but not under the CIAC umbrella is one scenario.
This would put football alongside girls ice hockey, rugby and cheerleading as sports all currently run by schools but not affiliated with the CIAC.
“The CIAC is concerned that DPH’s recommendation to postpone higher risk sports to a later time is reserved for CIAC sanctioned interscholastic athletics,” the CIAC stated in its release. “In fact, as the CIAC is not sanctioning a football season at this time, schools, with approval from their local DPH, may opt to play full contact football as a ‘club’ sport, similar to girls ice hockey, without adherence to CIAC COVID mitigating plans. The CIAC has previously tried to make DPH and the governor’s office aware of the inconsistency that permits our same student population to engage in non-interscholastic high risk sports with less oversight and fewer COVID mitigating strategies.”
Approval of local superintendents and boards of health would be needed for club teams to play.
“We had an (SCC) board meeting today. People are trying to figure out what the next step is, like should teams practice the rest of the week. So I don’t think so (on club football),” said SCC commissioner Al Carbone. “Some of our ADs did raise some concerns about kids who do go play in these other leagues, whether they should go away from their high school coaches. We are waiting to see what the CIAC football committee comes up with (Thursday) for fall options.”
Another option would have private organizations such as the Fairfield County Football League (FCFL), which is running youth games for grades 3-8, take on a senior division comprised of high school players.
The issues of equipment costs, field time, scheduling and insurance would fall to the governing bodies of those youth leagues.
“I’ve already talked to a couple of coaches in my conference about doing something, but as far as I know, that’s where we’re at right now,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “The big thing is what do you need and who needs to sign off on it? And are they willing to sign off on it?
“The bottom line is (the kids) want to play. That’s why you do what you do in the offseason. Right now, they’ve basically been abandoned. They’ve been dragged through the wringer and they’ve just been abandoned. To tell all the football players in the season that we’re not going to work hard to make sure you have a season, but you can go play in these other organizations, is ridiculous.”
High school conferences would not be involved in any way if the leagues are run outside of the schools.
The FCFL currently has five of its eight towns participating in 11-on-11 youth football this fall (New Canaan, Darien, Ridgefield, Fairfield and Westport).
Norwalk, Stamford and Wilton did not field FCFL teams this fall, following the DPH guidelines. Players from those teams are allowed to work out together, but cannot hold full-team, full-contact practices, or play games.
Any teams that would be able to play this fall would likely come from the same communities playing youth football, as well as Greenwich, which has been playing in its town-wide Greenwich Youth Football League (GYFL).
Members of the FCFL did not want to comment on the possibility of a senior division until the schools make a decision about how to proceed.
Private schools, such as St. Joseph in Trumbull, could also play under the banner of a possible league without having to be affiliated with one town.
“We are going to do everything in our power to give this senior class the opportunity that every other senior class in this school has had since 1928 (New Canaan’s first football team). So if it means private football or club football, whatever it means, we’ll do everything we can,” said New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli. “A lot of people in the community feel the same way. It’s a shame what’s happened. I feel terrible about it, so we’ll do everything in our power to make football happen.”
Dave Stewart contributed to this story