CHESHIRE — Spring hope remains.
Whether it fades or proves eternal will be seen in the weeks to come. For now, the CIAC is keeping open the possibility that there will be some kind of 2020 spring season for Connecticut’s high school athletes.
The CIAC reiterated its position after a Board of Control meeting Thursday morning. It’s a continuation of the “wait-and-see” approach the organization has taken since Gov. Ned Lamont closed Connecticut schools in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are, however, two major updates:
■If there is a spring season, it will take place in June.■To make that happen, the state tournaments have been cancelled.
The spring postseason typically spans the first two weeks of June. By scrapping the state championship events, the CIAC is freeing up competition time for as many teams and athletes as possible, rather than giving the lion’s share to the elite few who advance through the tournament brackets.
For that matter, there would also be no body of regular-season work to set up those tournaments.
“There was no feasibility, from our perspective, to holding statewide events,” said Joel Cookson, the CIAC’s Director of Media & Sports Information. “This allows, if there is competition and it’s deemed safe, teams to play some of their local rivals and to get in those experiences in the time frame that ends up being allowed.”
Thursday’s move was lauded by the athletic directors at Meriden’s three high schools.
“I was expecting it; I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Wilcox Tech’s Steve Wodarski, who also coaches the school’s golf team. “I totally agree with the CIAC’s stance of going a couple weeks at a time. Let’s not cut bait yet. Let’s continue to hold out hope.”
That hope, the city ADs agreed, will help keep student-athletes motivated to continue learning and training at home.
“100 percent correct: motivation. You don’t want to come right off the bat and say, ‘Nope, we’re not going to do it,’ because then you might lose kids,” said Maloney’s Bob McKee. “As long as you have hope, there’s always a chance.”
“You’re heartfelt for the seniors, who have lost a majority of their season,” said Platt’s Rich Katz. “It would be nice closure to these kids, closure to their careers in high school. It’s hard to leave some place without some type of closure.”
In keeping the spring sports window open, Connecticut is in the minority nationwide — ironic given that the CIAC was among the first to pull the plug on the winter postseason as the severity of the pandemic became apparent in mid-March. As of Wednesday, 36 states had cancelled the spring sports season, in most cases because schools in those states have been closed for the rest of the academic year.
Connecticut schools, per Lamont’s order, will remain closed until at least May 20.
Ultimately, Lamont and the state Department of Education will decide the fate of the Connecticut school year beyond that date, and thus the spring season. If schools do not reopen, there will be no scholastic sports in June.
Some coaches have been wondering if games could be played even if school buildings don’t reopen. After all, they reason, school is in session via distance learning.
That possibility, says the CIAC, is not on the table.
“Part and parcel with reopening schools is reopening the facilities themselves,” said Cookson. “If the schools are closed and the kids aren’t permitted back, we’ve been given the indication the schools are not going to be comfortable allowing competition on their facilities.”
Another proposal that met with resistance from CIAC member schools was extending a spring season into July. School financial years run July 1-June 30, so any extension of sports into July would span two budget cycles and get complicated.
So, if schools do reopen this spring and there is sports season, it will be limited to June.
To help get the ball rolling, the CIAC is bending its mandatory practice rule. Athletes must still practice at least 10 days before competing, but five of those days can be fulfilled at home. The other five must be done with a coach.
Katz, for one, says easing the 10-day rule isn’t necessarily in the best interest of certain athletes.
“Take that baseball pitcher,” said Katz, whose son Jeff was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2004 after pitching at Cheshire High School. “They need the 10 days of supervised throwing before they jump into any kind of an organized game. What they will be doing is losing their preseason throwing against hitters. Adrenaline comes out when you throw against another team. That’s important in conditioning.
“It may be a bit different for other people, but even track and field, when you actually get into that race and the adrenaline goes through your body, different things happen,” Katz added. “You really need to build up gradually. But I especially look at that baseball pitcher, knowing my son was one. You need that adrenaline to pump up in each of your outings before you extend yourself because that body feels totally different after a game situation than it does in practice.”
In the big picture, though, Katz supports the CIAC’s stance and agrees the chance of some kind of season is better than none at all.
The CIAC’s Board of Control will meet again on May 7. In the meantime, individual leagues and conferences will start discussing how to conduct a potential June season. The scheduling would be left to them.
“We have our CIAC conference call tomorrow,” said Wodarski, whose Wilcox Tech teams play in the Connecticut Technical Conference. “From there, we’ll probably have a CTC meeting and we can start coming up with ideas on some kind of spring sports experience within our own league.
“We’ve got enough good ADs in our league where I think we could come up with something creative. We’ll probably start to have those talks next week now that the CIAC has kept our hopes alive.”