Athletic directors have had plenty to endure in the past year and a half during the pandemic. With the fall season now in full swing comes yet another roadblock to manuever around: the state-wide shortage of bus drivers.
This issue has affect some area schools more than others, but all of them have been touched by it in some way.
Cheshire, in particular, has been hit hard. The Rams have been forced to move games to later in the day or into the evening or to weekends — to whenever more bus drivers are available.
Tuesday’s cross county meet at Cheshire Park was pushed back an hour due to bus availability for Cheshire and the visiting schools.
“It has had an effect on us, but I have to tell you the bus company (DATTCO) has done a fantastic job to make sure we have transportation,” Cheshire Athletic Director Steve Trifone said. “They are making every attempt to find us buses and are jumping through hoops to make it happen.”
At times, DATTCO is able to send two mini-buses rather than a large one.
“People have gone out of their way to make sure we have buses,” Trifone said. “But there only are a limited number of buses and we are trying to get more games on the weekends or later times.”
As with many industries, bus drivers have become more in demand since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. It has some ADs thinking outside of the box.
Trifone hasn’t ruled out the idea of having some of his coaches get bus licenses and driving, something that the Connecticut Technical Schools do, like Wilcox Tech.
“It’s an idea that’s possible for the future," Trifone said. “I know the tech schools do it and that’s an option. If a couple of our younger coaches want to try it and get certified, I will let them drive the team.”
Wilcox Tech AD Steve Wodarski said he would recommend that option to any school.
“We have our own fleet of buses and the coaches drive,” Wodarski said. “It’s a big advantage at this point. We don't have to worry about calling the bus company to set things up. We have a core of teachers that will fuel them up during the day.
“We’ve also had a couple of coaches who aren't in the building who have gotten their CDL. I would highly recommend it to other schools. It’s been beneficial to us.”
In Walingford, Sheehan and Lyman Hall use Durham School Services for transportation. To this point, both schools have been more affected by opposing schools needed to adjust rather than having to make changes on their end.
“Our company has done a phenomenal job,”said Lyman Hall’s Steve Baker. “We’ve had a couple games moved back from 3:45 to 6 p.m. for visiting teams. We are all doing the best we can to accommodate each other. It's no one’s fault. We are trying to make it work. Everyone has been understanding when we have to move start times.”
Sheehan AD Chris Dailey said he’s had to adjust starting times as well.
“Everyone’s in the same boat,” Dailey said. “On occasion, Durham will sublet to Coach to fill athletic runs right after school if they don’t have enough drivers for the school busses. We’ve also made some adjustments to weekends and evenings.
“The last year and a half has taught us that you have to roll with the punches," Dailey added. “Everyone is dealing with it and some schools are in worse shape than others.”
Southington, Platt and Maloney all use New Britain Transportation.
Platt and Maloney get picked up at 1:30 or after 3 p.m. for their athletic events. Prior to COVID and the bus driver shortage, it was 2:15. So some students need to leave class early to make the bus to their games.
“Our bus times are moved up a little bit and we are adjusting getting kids out earlier than planned,” Maloney AD Bob McKee said. “Other than that, it's hasn’t been a major impact on us. We know other schools are experiencing more difficulty than we are and we will adjust our times to accommodate them. We are taking it week by week. We will adjust when we need to.”
Katz said there aren’t enough drivers and the schools are adjusting as needed.
“NBT is handling this as good as they can," Katz said. “They are communicating with us every day so we know everything that is going on, and the coaches understand and have been patient.”
Katz said he adjusted Monday night’s Lewis Mills volleyball match from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. due to busing for the Burlington school. He added that Enfield also asked to move Friday's football game up to 6 p.m., but Platt couldn't accommodate the request.
In Southington, Steve Risser said the best thing to come out of the bus shortage is how well the schools are working together.
“We’ve been moving start times of games so we can work around the shortage,” Risser said. “On a few occasions, we’ve moved dates. But it's mostly moving starting times so we can get buses later. We used to leave for 3:45 games at 2:30, but the shortage has affected that window. After the elementary school run, that’s when we get the lion’s share of the athletic buses.
“We’re doing as good as we can," Risser said. “We are trying to work with everyone to get our kids where we need to go. The biggest thing is the schools are cooperating with each other to get these games in. We are giving it our best shot.”