CHESHIRE — The new year has commenced, but for high school sports in Connecticut, setting up the winter season continues to be a work in progress.
In a meeting Thursday morning, the CIAC Board of Control approved mitigating strategies drawn up by its various winter sports committees in hopes of playing this season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That information will be sent to member schools in the coming days, but the CIAC still looks forward to getting more guidance from the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office in advance of its next meeting on January 14.
“We will follow up with each other at the end of this week or early next week,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said Thursday. “We do anticipate the updated guidance will be available before next Thursday’s meeting.”
The CIAC is currently planning on allowing teams to start winter practices on Tuesday, January 19. The governing body had originally hoped to begin the season on November 21, but after the state put a pause on organized youth and recreational sports until 2021 and many schools went to remote learning, the start date was pushed back.
“We are still planning on playing winter sports and state championships, but we want it to be in a safe environment,” stated Lungarini.
From Thursday’s meeting, Lungarini said that mitigating strategies that were approved were based largely on what was successful in the fall season, when the CIAC conducted a six-week season that did not include state tournaments.
“DPH is recommending wearing masks indoors for moderate-risk sports and some changes may have to be made to some sports to allow student-athletes to compete safely,” explained Lungarini. “We still need to hear back from DPH about changes we need to make.”
In the winter, the CIAC sponsors basketball, gymnastics, boys’ ice hockey, indoor track and field, boys’ swim and dive, and wrestling. As an activity, competitive cheerleading squads also compete in a State Open.
The DPH has deemed competitive cheerleading and wrestling as high-risk sports for the spread of COVID-19 and, at least for now, is recommending they not be staged.
Indoor track, while considered a lesser risk, faces the challenge of facilities. Few schools have indoor tracks and most competitions are large, multi-school events held at places such as New Haven’s Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“There are still some concerns over our higher-risk sports and there are some questions about having venues for indoor track. Right now, it doesn’t look like college sites will be available,” Lungarini said. “Our indoor track committee is set to meet next week.”
On Monday, the CIAC met with DPH to talk about the state’s health situation. That conversation was also discussed at Thursday’s meeting.
“They spent a lot of time with us,” Lungarini said. “We gathered information and heard about their concerns for schools and the things around us.”
The CIAC anticipated an increase in coronavirus cases after people had come together for the holiday season. Lungarini added the organization’s sports medicine committee and DPH are concerned with the new strain of COVID-19 popping up in Connecticut.
“We are looking as to how we can get our kids back safely into sports competition,” said Lungarini.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the CIAC looked at the current level of in-person learning in the state.
“We targeted January 19 as the start date because that is when some schools are coming from remote to in-person and hybrid model learning,” explained Lungarini. “With more updates coming out on that, we are continuing to monitor that information going into next week.”
“There is light at the end of the tunnel; everything looks positive right now,” said Cheshire High School Athletic Director Steve Trifone. “I think we would all like a final answer at this point, but moving forward safely is the most important thing.”
While still waiting on a final decision for winter sports, schools are preparing to be ready if the season stays on the current track. Next Tuesday, athletic directors in the Southern Connecticut Conference, which includes Cheshire and the two Wallingford schools, will meet to talk about making tentative schedules.
“We’ll put something together,” said Trifone. “We need to know the date we can play up to. I’ve heard that they (the CIAC) want to have a state tournament, so once we find out when the regular season will end, we can fill in the dates.”
So long as they have the support of local health departments and schools, winter squads are able to condition in cohorts of four athletes. Cohort practices started in Southington this week. Trifone said Cheshire teams are currently not working out together, but look forward to getting more information next week.
For skiing, Trifone says that the Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League plans to follow CIAC recommendations. He added that Cheshire skiers are currently training on their own at area mountains.