CHESHIRE — Masks for basketball and ice hockey will be mandatory when, and if, the 2020-21 winter scholastic season launches in Connecticut.
The high-risk winter sports — wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance — won’t start any time before the new year.
Even some of the season’s moderate-risk sports — namely, indoor track and gymnastics — won’t start before January 1, mainly due to a lack of facilities.
And, over-arching everything, is the stat that will matter most of all in the coming months: COVID-19 case numbers. If those numbers continue to rise and push a significant number of Connecticut schools into “red-alert” status, competitive sports will likely be shut down statewide and limited to conditioning and non-contact skill work.
Those are the highlights of the winter sports plan the CIAC Board of Control is scheduled to vote upon Tuesday.
The Record-Journal obtained part of the report on Monday. GameTimeCT was the first to report the proposal in full.
If approved, the CIAC plan will enable basketball, hockey and boys swim teams to start practicing on Dec. 5, with basketball and swimming starting competition on Dec. 17 and hockey teams facing off with opponents starting Jan. 11.
Decisions on all the other winter sports — wrestling, gymnastics, indoor track, competitive dance and cheer — will not be made until the week of Jan. 4.
If current restrictions on those sports are still in place at the start of the new year, they’ll be shifted to the “transition” season the CIAC has set up for March and the first half of April to accommodate football, which was cancelled by the CIAC in the fall.
It goes without saying: amid a resurgence in the coronavirus pandemic, this will be a winter sports season unlike any other. At this point, though, the CIAC is calling for a season.
The CIAC’s plan reflects recommendations from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which align with those advocated by the National Federation of High School Associations.
The CIAC’s plan for a winter season also dovetails with the state’s push to keep schools open as much as possible even as rising COVID-19 numbers have led to some closing down for periods of time.
“The CIAC’s rationale for these recommendations is based on its belief that maintaining a safe level of in-person instruction is the primary goal of our member schools and association,” the CIAC winter plan reads. “While prioritizing considerations that will sustain conditions for in-person learning, the CIAC strongly affirms that the value of structured physical activity is widely supported in research, especially when isolation experiences are increased.
“As such, when safe, the CIAC will provide the best conference and/or regional sport experiences possible to our member schools.”
As with the just-completed fall season, teams will be urged to stay close to home. To reduce travel, conferences realigned their divisions based on geography and had teams play strictly within those divisions. They’ll be asked to do the same for the winter.
Schools that go into “red” status on the Connecticut Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 Alert System — defined as 15 or more daily cases per 100,000 people —can continue to compete, but must notify the school district of the opposing team. In those instances, the administrations of both schools must agree on whether to go forward with a scheduled event.
It will be up to schools in “red” towns to consult with their local health departments regarding the viability of continuing sports activities. On the current state alert map, all the towns in the Record-Journal coverage area are in the red.
Contests against out-of-state or non-CIAC schools have already been prohibited for the winter. So have multi-team events among CIAC schools.
One-minute mask breaks will be built into basketball and hockey games. For basketball, they’ll occur at the first stoppage of play at or after the four-minute mark of each quarter. In ice hockey, they’ll be at the first stoppage of play at or after the 4-, 8- and 12-minute marks of each period.
As the plan now stands, basketball teams could see up to 16 games in the regular season. Hockey and swim teams would be able to play a maximum of 14.
The CIAC is hoping to stage a state postseason for basketball and swimming from Feb. 15-28. Hockey, due to its projected later start, would hold its state tournament Feb. 22 through March 7.
State tournaments were not a part of the fall season, which was capped last week with divisional postseason events within conferences. Most swim meets were held virtually.
While most local fall teams did see an occasional game cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns and had some players go into quarantine, the majority completed their schedule. The only area teams to close up shop early — both just ahead of the postseason week — were the Sheehan and Maloney boys soccer teams.