CHESHIRE — Depending on their sport, many high school athletes received good news following the CIAC Board of Control meeting Thursday.
The CIAC met with representatives from the Connecticut Department of Public Health and Governor Ned Lamont’s office to discuss how COVID-19 revisions made by the National Federation of State High School Associations may impact interscholastic athletics.
The upshot? Restrictions were loosened on some winter sports — indoor track, competitive dance, competitive cheer — and a full season has been set up for spring sports.
The CIAC spring season will begin on March 27, with the regular season running April 10 through May 27, followed by traditional state tournaments from June 1-13.
If all that comes to pass, it will mark the full return to state high school sports in Connecticut since the fall of 2019. The CIAC pulled the plug on what remained of the winter tournaments last March as the state shut down in the face of the pandemic. The entire 2020 spring season was cancelled and, while an abbreviated 2020 fall season was played, there were no state tournaments. Ditto for the current winter season.
“We should have the opportunity to have a full schedule during the spring season time frame,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said Thursday. “That includes league and state tournaments.
“We want to keep in mind that we are trending in the right direction, but we will still be dealing with COVID in the spring,” Lungarini added. “The best insurance is still to do your part and taking mitigating steps to reduce the spread of COVID.”
The spring season was always a priority for the CIAC after losing all of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The focus of the Board since the onset was to provide as full of a spring experience as possible,” Lungarini said. “Other sports had full regular season and a league tournament last year, but missed the state tournament. The spring athletes lost those things and we’re excited we’ve reached a point in our COVID response that we can plan some sense of normalcy to our kids.”
“We still have some work to do with mitigation strategies for all sports, including boys lacrosse,” Lungarini added.
The CIAC on Thursday gave updates on the winter sports of competitive cheerleading, competitive dance, wrestling, indoor track jumping events as well as the spring sport of boys lacrosse. All were previously deemed high risk for the spread of COVID-19 and recommended not to be played.
Earlier this month, however, the National Federation did away with the “high, moderate and low” risk categories for each sport, instead directing individual states to take other factors into account, such as community infection rates, to determine what sports are safe to play.
That’s what led to the CIAC convening with DPH and Lamont’s office.
Now, all sports appear to be moving forward with the exception of wrestling, which remains limited to conditioning and non-contact skill work in four-person cohorts. The CIAC hoped it could stage wrestling dual meets in March, but the DPH held to its original recommendation.
“We understand the challenges that still exist with wrestling,” Lungarini said. “At this point, we agreed we can’t move forward with wrestling.”
Virtual competition in competitive cheerleading and competitive dance can start on March 1. Cheerleaders and dances must wear masks except when engaged in stunts, lifts, tumbling and other acrobatics, but the mask must be put on immediately following the activity.
“We had a feeling spring sports would have a regular season with a tournament and everything,” Platt Athletic Director Rich Katz said. “We are excited that competitive cheerleading will be opened up for competition. We are also happy indoor track will be able to run.”
Platt has 29 competitive cheerleaders who rotate cheering at games in groups of 14 and 15. Lyman Hall has 16 competitive cheerleaders and Sheehan has 12.
“The kids deserve it after last year,” Katz said of his spring athletes. “It will be nice for the kids. They’ve been cooped up for a long time and it looks like it’s going to be a normal season, which is going to be great. But we won’t forget any of the protocols.”
Dual meets in Indoor track meets can also begin on March 1. Runners must wear masks. Jumpers can takes theirs off to complete jumps, then must put them back on.
The big question for indoor track is where will meets be held? Only a few Connecticut high schools have indoor track facilities. The CIAC had previously allowed potential outdoor meets for indoor teams if the weather cooperated.
“It’s going to be challenging. There aren’t a lot of indoor facilities around the state and college facilities aren’t available,” Lungarini said. “It is very limited, but whatever opportunity we can provide, we wanted to provide it. We are looking to over some experience for the kids.”
Lyman Hall Athletic Director Steve Baker said he will do what he can for all of his athletes, including indoor track.
“I’m not sure how indoor track is going to work with meets, but if there’s an opportunity to compete, we will make it happen,” Baker said. “Everyone has to be flexible. We are trying to make things happen. We want kids to get events. The kids are excited to play and we are happy to have the opportunity to play.”
“The news about the spring season is well received,” Baker added. “Our coaches were asking every day about the latest update. We know the CIAC and the conference wanted to make sure the spring season happened. Everyone felt terribly for the kids that didn’t get to play last spring and I know the CIAC was doing everything in their power to get them a season.”
Sheehan AD Chris Dailey said he was pleased to hear the spring season will take place.
“This is good news because the spring athletes lost everything last year,” Dailey said. “The CIAC has been clear they were going to try to provide a spring season that was minimally compromised. It looks like they will be close to as normal of a season as possible.”
Maloney coach Bob McKee said the spring coaches and athletes are excited about the prospects of a full season.
“Spring coaches just want the warm weather and to get outside,” McKee said. “They know what happened last year and they are very excited about this season. They want to have a season and just be together.”
Also Thursday, the CIAC Board of Control affirmed the CIAC’s position that fans/spectators not be allowed. However, the CIAC is leaving the discretion up to each local district.