MERIDEN — A day long dreaded and long expected arrived Tuesday.
Connecticut schools were officially closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year and, with it, the 2020 high school sports season was officially canceled as well.
The CIAC, the state’s governing body of scholastic sports, made its call a few hours after Gov. Ned Lamont made his announcement Tuesday morning on the fate of the schools.
“The CIAC empathizes with our school communities and the experiences lost due to COVID-19,” the CIAC said in a statement. “Our focus is now on completing guidelines for summer contact and resocialization of CIAC sports in the fall.”
Connecticut was the last state in the nation to cancel its spring season — this after the CIAC was among the first to halt the winter season when the scope of the coronavirus pandemic began surfacing in mid-March.
The fate of the spring season was a gradual retreat. Moving in lockstep with the state, which initially closed schools from March 13 through April 20, the CIAC indefinitely suspended the launch of the spring season, slated for the first weekend in April.
Then, shortly after the state pushed school closures to May 20, the CIAC on April 23 canceled its postseason events in hopes of freeing up the month of June for schools to salvage whatever they could of the spring season.
Throughout these past eight weeks, the CIAC made it clear the fate of spring sports ultimately lay with Lamont and the state Department of Education. So long as there was a chance schools would reopen before summer, there was a chance for some kind of a spring season, no matter how short.
Now it is gone.
“We all knew it was inevitable. We were holding that sliver of hope and that went away this morning,” Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser said Tuesday shortly before calling his coaches, who in turn would be getting in touch with all of their athletes. “It’s an emotional day today.”
Indeed, even though it was likely spring sports would never get off the ground in the face of the coronavirus, Tuesday’s finality still hit hard.
“It’s heartbreaking,” remarked Maloney Athletic Director Bob McKee. “It’s heartbreaking for those kids, for them to lose out on their season, their experience. So many memories are made throughout their high school years, their playing days. For some, this is it for them.”
From the West Side, Platt AD Rich Katz said, “It’s a tough one for everybody. Sad for the seniors, but it’s the safest thing to do, and I support the state and the CIAC.”
Throughout the delayed spring, coaches and athletes did what they could to cling to some sense of normalcy. Coaches devised workout regimens and emailed them to their players. Many teams collaborated on videos of the instructional and/or inspirational variety. There were statewide “challenges” between teams on social media.
All of that, however, could not replace the basic human interaction that comes with being in school and on playing fields together. It was an absence underscored by Wilcox Tech AD and golf coach Steve Wodarski on Tuesday.
“I enjoy the day to day of seeing all the athletes and keeping in touch with all of my coaches and teams. We’re all losing out,” Wodarski said. “It’s terrible. I’ll have more seasons, but these kids who are missing out, the seniors especially, that’s who my heart bleeds for. They can’t get this year back.”
For senior student-athletes, the official cancelation of spring sports takes yet another end-of-year activity off their plate. Award ceremonies, proms and other rites of high school passage have been coronavirus casualties. How to best stage graduation is a challenge school districts deperately want to solve.
“We don’t know how graduation is going to take place, but at some point it’s going to take place,” Risser said.
“This senior class, it will always stay with them what happened this spring,” Risser added. “I’m so proud of them. Not one athlete has said anything to me negative about the situation. They understood what had to be done. From the day we locked the facilities here at Southington High School, they respected that.”
There is a sense of a bigger picture having been gained from a pandemic that, as of Tuesday afternoon, had infected 3.7 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of 257,000. In the light of such numbers and the economic carnage the crisis has wrought, what is the winning and losing of sport?
Another takeaway: Don’t take opportunities for granted.
As Sheehan athletic director Chris Dailey remarked, “We’re just going to look forward to when we are allowed to step back on the field, whether it’s in the summer or in the fall. I think when that time comes we’re all going to have a pretty strong perspective and appreciation for that, and we’ll take advantage of that time when it comes.”
“All spring long we’ve been talking about using this extraordinary, unprecedented, hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event to teach our kids about what’s really important in life,” said Risser. “It’s all about making kids understand that it’s OK to be disappointed about what’s going on, but also they’ve learned there are things bigger than sports in the world. This is given us all a chance to pause and recognize that.
“It will be known as the lost season,” Risser added. “Someone will write a book about it and it will be called ‘The Lost Season,’ because that’s what it was for these kids. They will be recognized for having endured it.”