MERIDEN — Maloney Athletic Director Bob McKee has been tired this week.
That’s good. It means high school sports remain on course for a winter season.
“It’s like organized chaos,” McKee laughed Friday. “Now I’m back in the swing of things.”
Since teams started practicing Tuesday, McKee and fellow athletic directors have been drawing up practice and game schedules. Leagues have been finalizing postseason plans.
On Friday, the Board of Governors in the Southern Connecticut Conference approved that league’s winter divisional alignments and the framework for regular season and tournament schedules.
Regular-season schedules are in the books in the Central Connecticut Conference for basketball and swimming. Hockey and gymnastics, sports almost exclusively reliant on off-campus facilities, are expected to be finalized next week.
Also on Friday, Wallingford issued updated protocols for the second week of practice.
They extend key elements of this week’s plan, which limited Lyman Hall and Sheehan athletes to non-contact drills and conditioning in cohorts of no more than 12. While the 12-athlete cohorts will stay in place until at least Thursday, the Trojans and Titans can engage in contact drills starting next week.
Practices have also been extended from 60 minutes to 90.
Thus, by small and cautious steps, Connecticut’s scholastic winter sports teams continue to march toward a February 8 opening day.
“It’s a gradual progression similar to how we conducted the fall. We’re going to slowly build up to the start of the games,” said Sheehan AD Chris Dailey. “I think everybody has to stay optimistic, but we’re also aware and wary that at any time we can have setbacks. That encourages us to conduct ourselves as safely as possible so we can keep moving forward.”
The winter landscape will look much like it did in the fall. Area teams will by and large be playing the same opponents.
Spectators will again be limited, though nothing has been set in stone beyond the SCC announcing Friday that no spectators will be allowed at its events for the first week, February 8-14.
After that, each SCC school district can make its own call on fans, though the conference as a whole will continue to monitor the situation.
The CCC is also leaving spectator policies up to individual schools. While final verdicts have yet to be announced in Meriden and Southington, they’ll likely be similar to rules used for girls volleyball in the fall, when attendance was limited to parents of the home team.
“We’re still looking at it,” said Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser. “By next week, we’ll probably have our arms around it. We’re looking at potential limited attendance and visitors doubtful, but you never know by the end of the season. It could be easing up.”
The first week of practice did coincide with better statewide COVID-19 numbers, yet the pandemic’s second surge maintains a clear grip. Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday reported a 4.93 percent test positivity rate, 2,019 new cases and 45 deaths. The number of hospitalizations dipped by 11 to 1,058.
Against that backdrop, Lyman Hall and Sheehan rejoined the other area high schools with in-person learning this week and area teams resumed practice in basketball, ice hockey, swimming and gymnastics. Indoor track teams also started practicing, but will not see competition until March at the earliest.
“We got through Week 1 with no hiccups and we are geared up for Week 2,” said Sheehan’s Dailey. “This week was a busy week, but I was glad to see the kids back in hallways, back on the court, back on the ice and I’m sure they were glad to be there and out of the house.”
The SCC format approved by the Board of Governors on Friday features 12-game regular seasons in basketball and hockey and a 10-meet regular season in swimming. All teams qualify for the postseason tournaments.
In basketball, Cheshire, Lyman Hall and Sheehan are once again in the same division with each other, Hamden and North Haven.
Cheshire will also crossover with Shelton for a home-and-home series. The Wallingford schools will do so with the Milford schools — Sheehan with Law, LH with Foran.
The Titans and Trojans will also close the season going head to head, which means they are projected to play each other three times.
In hockey, the SCC remains aligned with the South-West Conference. Sheehan is now in Division II with Cheshire and Lyman Hall.
The local schools are split in swimming — Cheshire in Division A; Lyman Hall and Sheehan in Division B.
SCC swim meets will all be virtual unless two opponents agree to meet in-person. The postseason meets will be virtual.
CCC swimming, which features a seven-meet season, will likely be more of a mix. During the girls season, the Meriden Co-op did most of its meets in-person and will look to do the same.
“What we did in the fall, we had a very safe plan,” said McKee. “We covered all areas, so the hope is to have an in-person for swimming, but we do understand not all schools will be comfortable with that and might not be allowed to.”
Meriden will be swimming in the same division with Southington. The bracket also includes Avon and Farmington, who both swim at Cornerstone Aquatics in West Hartford; Lewis Mills and the Bristol Co-op, who both call Malone Aquatics Center home; and Middletown and Plainville, who both swim on campus.
Southington conducted most of its meets virtually in the fall. With a smaller boys team, that might change this coming season. But with no diving board at their home pool at the Southington YMCA, the Blue Knights might also opt to compete exclusively on the road.
“The swimming schedule is still a work in progress,” said Risser, who will hash out a plan with swim coach Evan Tuttle.
Basketball in the CCC, meanwhile, is a settled matter, one the mirrors the fall alignments. Platt and Maloney return to a division with Berlin, Bulkeley, Middletown Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield. Southington is back with Avon, Farmington, Lewis Mills, New Britain, Plainville and the two Bristol schools.
As for Wilcox Tech, the Indians play in a tight circuit within the Connecticut Technical Conference, grouped with Kaynor Tech, Wolcott Tech and Whitney Tech. The Tribe will play each of those teams three times and crossover with Goodwin Tech and Vinal Tech.