CHESHIRE — In opening up the fall sports season on Oct. 1, high schools around the state took a conservative approach when determining how many spectators they would allow at their facilities.
With a week of competition in the books, and with the state moving into Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Thursday, some area schools are easing their restrictions.
After only allowing family members to attend events with senior ceremonies in Week 1, Cheshire, Sheehan, and Lyman Hall are opening the gate wider to home fans.
Starting on Thursday, Cheshire is allowing two parents per athlete to attend outdoor contests on campus. With a $5 donation to Cheshire’s Turf Replacement Fund, parents will receive a pass that they must wear with a mask throughout the event. Spectators also have to provide information for contact tracing.
Like Cheshire, Wallingford is changing its policy at Sheehan and Lyman Hall. Starting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, four family members per athlete will be able to attend outdoor contests and one parent per family will be allowed to watch indoors.
For contact tracing, the indoor spectator and one of the four outdoor spectators must give their name at the entrance for contract tracing.
Everyone must wear masks. No visiting fans will be allowed in either town.
“Our parents were very helpful in abiding by the rules to start the fall season,” said Cheshire Athletic Director Steve Trifone. “They wanted to be at the contests, but they understood that we would try to open up further down the road.
“It will be nice to see fans at our games; I’m glad that they will be able to watch the athletes play live,” Trifone added. “I hope that our (health) metrics stay the same. The situation is fluid, so if we have to pull our fans back, we will do that, but if we follow social distancing, I think we will be fine.”
In gradually building up to the season from conditioning and skill work in small cohorts to full-team practices, Sheehan Athletic Director Chris Dailey was optimistic the Wallingford schools would reach a point where spectators could be allowed in.
“The last week and a half, the priority was to just get the teams back on the field safely and to celebrate our seniors,” Dailey said. “Now that we've been able to go through all those phases, knock on wood, with no setbacks, the next step is to allow parents and families to watch their kids play in a safe environment.”
Cheshire and the Wallingford schools developed their original plans with the help of the Southern Connecticut Conference. To the north, Southington, Platt and Maloney worked with the guidance of the Central Connecticut Conference.
The CCC schools have been allowing two family members per home player and no visiting fans. That plan remains unchanged for now, though there is a conference meeting scheduled for Thursday.
“We started out with a conservative plan to keep the attendance numbers within the state guidelines; we tell our stakeholders that we will go up or down depending on the guidelines,” stated Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser. “We have a CCC meeting on Thursday, so the spectator policy could be brought up. We have been looking at the Oct. 8 date (for state reopening), too.”
For the biggest games so far this fall, Risser estimates that the school is averaging 40 to 50 spectators.
“Everybody has been terrific,” said Risser. “I haven’t had to come up to one person for not wearing a mask or congregating. On the field, we have five benches instead of two and we have athletes wearing masks on the sideline.”
The one exception to the Southington policy is girls swimming. Meets are being held virtually at the Southington YMCA and no spectators are allowed.
In Meriden, Maloney and Platt aren’t making changes to their policy right now. Two people — a family member or guardian — per athlete are allowed at outdoor events.
There is a maximum number of 25 people who can attend girls volleyball and girls swimming events. To ensure the 25-person limited isn’t exceeded at the Maloney pool, where the Meriden Co-op program swims, one only parent or guardian is allowed.
With Connecticut going to Phase 3, Platt Athletic Director Rich Katz did say outdoor restrictions could be loosened in the future.
Like many programs around the state, local schools are using streaming sources like the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Network to broadcast activities for people to watch on their devices.
Cheshire girls swimming has used Instagram to provide a live feed of its first two meets. The Rams have also started a YouTube channel to broadcast swimming and cross country meets.
“We may also look into broadcasting virtual (college) signings, as well,” added Trifone.
Athletic programs plan to continue monitoring COVID-19 numbers throughout the season.
“One step at a time, here,” Dailey said with a chuckle. “We assess everything weekly and we're continually looking at our policies. The common word of the year has been fluid and we're aware of that. As things change, we have to adapt to it. Hopefully, things can trend in a positive direction.”