FOOTBALL: And now, there is no ‘alternative’

FOOTBALL: And now, there is no ‘alternative’

As talks of bringing back winter sports picked up over the last couple of weeks, many Connecticut high school football teams had asked about the status of their proposed alternative season.

On Thursday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference provided an update that spread quickly around the state, and the news for football players was not good.

During a media session to answer questions about the finalized winter sports plan, CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini announced that during the Board of Control meeting that morning the governing body had decided to cancel the alternative season, which had been set up for late February through mid-April after football was cancelled in the fall.

Citing that high-risk sports like football aren’t able to compete until March 28, which is the projected final date of the newly approvefd winter season, Lungarini said that the Board of Control felt the time frame to hold the alternative season was too tight.

With the spring season starting on March 29, the board also felt that there could be conflicts for athletes who would be interested in playing football and a spring sport. Additionally, after receiving updated information from the National Federation of State High School Associations, Lungarini said playing football in the spring would limit the number of games that teams could play in the fall.

“I’m not surprised by the news,” said Platt football coach Jason Bruenn. “When they pushed back the winter season, there was only so much time left from January to June. Since the spring season was entirely canceled last year, you knew that the Board of Control was going to make it a priority to bring that back this year.”

Thursday’s CIAC decision wrapped up a long process that started in August of last year. The CIAC initially planned to play 11-on-11 tackle football amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but after the Connecticut Department of Public Health recommended that the high-risk sport be canceled or moved to 2021, the governing body put a pause on it.

In multiple discussions with DPH, state officials and medical professionals, the CIAC came up with mitigating strategies to try to lower the football classification from high risk, but was unable to effect a change. So the CIAC announced on Sept. 16 it would not sponsor 11-on-11 tackle football in 2020.

On Sept. 29, the CIAC announced an alternative winter season for football and any other sports that did not complete 40 percent of their regular seasons. In the plan, football players would start conditioning on Feb. 22 and then play five games from March 19 to April 17.

In choosing to cancel that alternative season on Thursday, Lungarini said that it was a tough decision for the Board of Control.

“We certainly understand and empathize that those athletes that would have been able to have some sort of competition in that alternative season will not be able to have that competition,” Lungarini said.

In reflection, Lyman Hall football coach Bill Weyrauch said he didn’t have high hopes that the plan would work out and thus wasn’t that devastated by Thursday’s announcement.

“I feel bad for my seniors, but I could see the writing on the wall,” Weyrauch said. "It was going to be tough to fit this season into those couple of weeks.”

Across town, at Sheehan, coach John Ferrazzi said that he is extremely disappointed that there won’t be football.

“Hearing the news gave me an empty feeling,” Ferrazzi said. “You think of your seniors and all the work they put in to prepare for this year.”

After Sheehan capped the 2019 season with the program’s first state title in 34 years, Ferrazzi tried to stay positive that his team could play games.

“I said that we would control the things that we could control,” reflected Ferrazzi. “The kids have handled everything the right way. We were going to keep working until we were told that we can’t play this season.”

For Bruenn, the final cancellation of the season is even more upsetting because his son Clayton is co-captain at Platt and contributed to a close senior group.

“I’ve known these kids for a long time,” said Coach Bruenn. “Beyond the field, it is difficult because they have been around to come over to my house and swim in the pool.”

While the CIAC is now planning for football this fall, Bruenn feels that it is frustrating to see that other states have completed their seasons and others plan to do so later this year.

“For football in general, this year has been one disappointment after another,” stated Bruenn. “I don’t want to pit football against other sports that are getting to compete. I’m glad that those athletes are getting to play, but I think more should have been done to give everyone that opportunity.”

After the CIAC cancelle the fall season, Platt and Maloney were both able to make a football schedule and play games independent from the CIAC.

“We worked hard to give something to the kids,” Bruenn said. “We didn’t want to play in another league, but the guys deserved the chance to play.”

Like Platt and Maloney, Southington took the opportunity to compete independently and was able to get in three games.

“It was great and I would do it again if I had the chance,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “The kids put in a tremendous amount of work. A lot of guys needed to get the playing experience for college.”

After the Blue Knights reached the Class LL semifinals in 2019, Drury had high hopes for what his team could do with a lot of letter-winners returning this season.

“This was a great group,” said Drury. “These guys were committed and dedicated.”

In advising against tackle football last fall, the Department of Public Health recommended non-contact football activities like 7-on-7 “passing league” games be staged instead. Several conferences, including the SCC, followed through and set up games. Lyman Hall played in four or five.

“I thought it was a good experience. I think the skill-position guys got more out of it,” reflected Weyrauch. “The lineman challenges were fun, but it is hard to replicate football there.”

With players being separated for the 7-on-7 activities, Cheshire decided to not participate and instead held practices into November. While there could be no person-to-person contact, the Rams were allowed to use equipment.

On Nov. 5, the Rams held Senior Night for 20 players and 14 cheerleaders.

“It was great to honor them and be around each other,” said Cheshire coach Don Drust. “Those seniors have given us so much.”

Now that schools know that there won’t be CIAC-sanctioned games this season, coaches are pushing for spring football practices or camps to help teams prepare for the upcoming fall season.

“I think that it would be criminal if we can’t do something as a team,” Ferrazzi said. “We are going to need the help.” 

When football is brought back, Drury feels that it will be a shot of adrenaline for the Southington program.

“As the vaccine progresses and we can get back to normalcy, I think people will be excited to be back out on the field,” Drury said.

After going through a challenging time, Ferrazzi believes that there will be a greater appreciation from players when they get to compete again.

“No one of this generation has experienced anything like this (pandemic) before,” reflected Ferrazzi. “It is a lesson that you never know when something can get taken from you.” 

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