MERIDEN — In high school sports circles, the pressing question of the last eight weeks was, “Will there be any kind of a spring season?”
That was answered Tuesday when Gov. Ned Lamont announced Connecticut schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year and the CIAC officially cancelled a 2020 spring season that never even started.
Now come harder questions, the answers to which will be of far greater import because they’ll shape the landscape of high school sports as all of education adapts to the coronavirus.
Barring a vaccine arriving sooner than expected, medical experts warn of a resurgent wave of COVID-19 in the fall as the weather cools.
So what will fall sports look like? If social distancing is still in effect, how will crowds for big-gate sports like football be managed?
For that matter, how will contact sports like football be managed?
Now that the fate of the spring season has been addressed, attention turns in full to the future. As the CIAC noted Tuesday, “Our focus is now on completing guidelines for summer contact and resocialization of CIAC sports in the fall.”
That starts Thursday. The CIAC Board of Control meets this morning. So does the Central Connecticut Conference. On Friday, the CIAC is expected to have its weekly conference call with athletic directors.
“Every Friday we go to Zoom meetings with the CIAC; there are a lot of questions that are coming up,” Platt AD Rich Katz remarked on Tuesday. ”By making the (spring) cancellation today, now we look ahead to fall sports.
“Are things going to be open in the summer?” Katz added. “Let’s take our athletes: They need to condition; they need weight training. Will that be allowed? It’s still a wait-and-see.”
Ideas have been thrown on table. Decisions have yet to be made.
On the issue of the spring season, the CIAC took its lead from the state. So long as schools were closed, there weren’t going to be sports.
That chain of command, so to speak, will be largely the same moving ahead. Health officials will monitor the virus. Education officials will figure out how to best re-open schools. Athletics will fall under those umbrellas.
“We’re going to be taking directions from the health authorities as to what we can do and what we can’t,” Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser said Wednesday. “Safety is going to still be in mind with everything we do, which goes without saying. And school getting back is the first priority, obviously.”
In the immediate future, there has been talk of easing up the CIAC’s out-of-season rules to allow spring coaches to work with their underclass players in the summer.
While the uncertainty of spring played out, a lot of attention was rightly given to the lost final season for seniors. Underclassmen, though, missed out on a season of development. Incoming freshmen went unvetted.
Bottom line: high school programs, which rely on a steady flow of talent in the pipeline to absorb yearly turnover, stand to suffer for the interruption.
“This is the long-term effect of losing this season. We’re not going to be able to get this back,” said Southington tennis coach Robin Thompson. “There are far-reaching effects here. It’s unlike the fall and winter sports. At least they played. We didn’t get our season and I don’t even know if we’re going to get out on the courts in the summer.”
A point well raised. Even if out-of-season coaching rules are relaxed for the summer, will school athletic facilities even be open? How about parks?
Summer is also a time to get coaches recertified in CPR and first aid. At Platt, Katz handles that at the end of the school year in June and then again just before school resumes in late summer.
Only so much of that training can be done online.
“First aid and CPR have to have some component of physical skills, and somebody’s got to check it,” said Katz. “I question myself: Can I bring three or four people at a time into a gym, with one mannequin each, with proper cleaning supplies and spread them out? I can certainly do that. But all of these things have to be answered by our local administrators and the governor.”
As for the fall season, it’s not as far off as it may seem. Preseason starts in mid-August with the start of football camp. Even before then, teams are weight training — a group activity that’s come off the boards since schools were closed on March 13.
Most team schedules for the fall season have already been drawn up. Just how permanent will they prove to be?
“Those sports in the fall, a lot of them are contact sports,” remarked Wilcox Tech AD Steve Wodarski. “You’ve got soccer and football. Volleyball isn’t a contact sport, but you’ve got 12 different individuals on one play touching a ball. There are a lot of things that will have to get figured out very quickly.”
Answers will be shaped by the progression — or recession — of the coronavirus, and that’s a variable that doesn’t exactly sit still.
“This is going to come down to getting leads from the health authorities, and that can change on a weekly basis,” Risser said. “That’s what makes this so challenging.”
“What a time to be living,” Risser said. “It’s difficult to talk about it. We’re all going to be learning on the fly here.”
And yet some things do not waver even amid the gravest crisis. This is high school sports, played by the young. Spring hopes have died. As of right now, that’s just one season.
Said Sheehan Athletic Director Chris Dailey, “I know that as soon as some of the social distancing rules ease up, whether it’s organized or unorganized, the kids are certainly going to out there and starting to compete.”