MERIDEN — Two weeks down, one to go, and area teams remain on course to open the CIAC winter season the week of February 8.
“As of right now, we’re on all systems go,” Maloney Athletic Director Bob McKee said Friday, echoing the report from all seven area schools. “All the teams have been doing a great job.”
Friday marked the end of the second full week of practice in Meriden, Southington and Cheshire since the CIAC Board of Control cleared schools to start practicing January 19. Wallingford, which has been following a gradual phase-in plan, will throttle up to full team practices next week.
The past two weeks have given athletes time to get back in the flow after two months of being sidelined — and time to adjust to playing in masks, which are required in every sport this winter except swimming.
The past two weeks have also given coaches time to get as well-versed in COVID-19 protocols as in X’s and O’s.
The common refrain among ADs: Teams, aware of the thin line between having a season and having it evaporate, seeing Connecticut’s COVID-19 numbers decline yet virus variants rise, are motivated to toe a disciplined line.
“It’s a big credit to the coaches and the kids; they’re following all the guidelines,” said Lyman Hall’s Steve Baker. “They’re dying to play some games, so they’re doing everything they can … Every kid I talk to, they’re just happy to be out there doing something, being with their friends, being with their teammates.”
“They are hungry to participate,” said Cheshire AD Steve Trifone. “The season is up to them. We have done everything we can do and now the ball is in their court.”
Most area basketball and hockey teams have scrimmages lined up for next week. Their 12-game schedules for the regular season are set. That includes rivalry games between Platt-Maloney and Lyman Hall-Sheehan.
Boys swim teams and the Southington gymnastics team have their meet schedules in hand, too. The lingering question for some is whether certain events will be virtual or in-person.
Even the area indoor track teams have been getting after it — many of them outdoors until the deep freeze set in Thursday and Friday — in hopes of seeing competition in March, when the state is due to revisit its current ban on large multi-team events.
In hockey, the New England states and New Jersey on Friday extended their joint ban on interstate high school and youth hockey competition through March 31. The initial ban was due to expire Sunday.
The push to March 31 didn’t affect Connecticut hockey teams. Prohibited from doing so by the CIAC, none of Connecticut’s high school teams had scheduled games against out-of-state opponents.
Hockey teams also got updated guidelines to follow at the private rinks most of them call home. The owners of those rinks formed an association for the express purpose of drawing up uniform health and safety rules based on the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Connecticut Department of Health.
Cheshire head coach Anthony Giusto, general manager of the Newington Ice Arena, played a pivotal role in the protocols drawn up by the Connecticut Rink Owners Association. Along with requiring masks, the plan lays out social distancing rules for the bench and locker rooms.
Players, for example, can’t get enter the rink any earlier than 20 minutes before a game or practice, and they have to leave within 15 minutes.
While the Connecticut Rink Owners Association is allowing one parent per skater at the youth level, no spectators will be allowed at high school games through at least February.
Spectator policies at schools will vary. While the CIAC is recommending none be allowed, the ultimate decision is up to individual districts.
Maloney and Platt are leaning toward one guest per basketball player. Southington is eyeing two per player, just like it did for girls volleyball in the fall.
Wilcox Tech also in a replay of the fall, is allowing no spectators, with the exception of Senior Night.
“Right now, our position is no specators whatsoever,” said Wilcox AD Steve Wodarski. “If the data shows we can make adjustments, we’ll make adjustments.”
The Southern Connecticut Conference, which includes Cheshire and the two Wallingford schools, has a blanket policy of no spectators at any event for the first week of the season. After that, league schools are free to make their own call.
To a large extent, facilities will dictate the decision. Example: Sheehan, with bleachers on both sides of its gym, is in better position to accommodate a small crowd and keep teams socially distanced on the sidelines than Lyman Hall, which has bleachers on just one side.
“We have limitiations here; it’s an old building. We’ll do the best we can,” said Lyman Hall’s Baker. “The whole goal is to get the kids playing. Obviously, we’d love to have specators ... We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure people can watch the games even if we don’t have them in our building.”
Most area gyms are already equipped with cameras that allow them to livestream events through the National Federation of State High School Associations’ platform NFHSNetwork.com.
Sheehan and Lyman Hall are also hoping to carry Wallingford swim meets at the Sheehan pool on Facebook Live.
The Connecticut Rink Owners Association, in its plan, says LiveBarn or any live-streaming service will be allowed at the private rinks.
“RIght now, the main priority, especially for the first week, is to get the student-athletes back in action in as safe an environment as possible,” said Sheehan AD Chris Dailey. “We’re going to revisit all of our policies as we go through the season. Part of that is spectators.”
While the situation is going well in area schools, athletic directors know they’ll inevitably be dealing with schedule changes, just as they did in the fall.
In fact, it’s already happened. One CCC school, Rocky Hill, has some boys basketball players in quarantine. That’s required Platt to cancel a scrimmage and Maloney to reschedule its season opener with the Terriers from Feb. 8 to Feb. 20.
“We are (on course), but there may be some hiccups,” said Platt AD Rich Katz. “I look at the college basketball on TV at night and it shows which games are cancelled. I”m a little fearful that’s going to happen in our conference.”
“We’re hopeful; we’re hopeful all the teams in our region can stay as virus-free as possible,” said Southington’s Steve Risser. “There will be rescheduling. We all know that. We’re just in a dicier time. I think we all knew we would be. The fact that we’re indoors, we need to be as prudent as possible.”
Greg Lederer contributed to this story