CIAC: State health office keeps winter season on course for Jan. 19 launch; final approval from Board of Control awaits

CIAC: State health office keeps winter season on course for Jan. 19 launch; final approval from Board of Control awaits

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CHESHIRE — The winter scholastic sports season was delayed, but it looks like it won’t be denied.

The state on Monday gave the green light for low- and moderate-risk high school sports to begin practices on January 19 and games on February 1.

The go-ahead came through updated recommendations issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to the CIAC, as well as by Gov. Ned Lamont, who said during his Monday COVID-19 news briefing that youth sports, suspended along with high school sports since mid-November, could also resume on January 19.

“We’re about a week away from allowing practices to begin for all those moderate-risk sports,” the governor said.

All that remains on the high school front is for the CIAC Board of Control to give the final approval. The Board meets on Thursday and, informed with imput from the CIAC Sports Medicine Committee, is expected to make a decision that morning.

No hiccups at this point are expected, so long as the COVID-19 landscape doesn’t worsen. January 19 has been the targeted launch date since the middle of November, when the CIAC postponed the winter season.

There is synchronicity to that date. Most school districts that have been in all-remote learning, such as Wallingford, are due to resume in-person classes on January 19, which provides a two-week quarantine window coming out of the holiday break.

“Everything I’m hearing is not if we’ll play, but when,” said one area athletic director.

As expected, the Department of Public Health is recommending that masks be worn by players, coaches and officials in the moderate-risk sports of basketball, hockey and gymnastics.

Masks will not be required in boys swimming, which is considered low risk and can also conduct meets virtually.

Monday’s news, however, was not good for wrestling, competitive cheerleading/dance and indoor track.

Wrestling and competitive cheer/dance are the winter sports deemed high risk for the spread of COVID-19. The DPH continues to recommend they be postponed, and the CIAC is adhering to that. Activities in those sports, the DPH advises, should be limited to small-group conditioning and non-contact skill work.

As for indoor track, while the sport is considered moderate risk, the limited number of facilities that can host events pose an issue. Large multi-team meets are the hallmark of the sport. The DPH is advising against those gatherings, so the CIAC has also postponed indoor track for the time being.

There is an “alternative” season set up from mid-February to mid-April for football, which was cancelled last fall, as well as for any other sport that does not compete 40 percent of its regular season. Wrestling and indoor track could wind up finding a home in that time slot.

The CIAC’s plan for the winter season calls for an abbreviated 12-game regular season followed by state tournaments running from March 8-21.

As in the fall, the CIAC wants teams to play not only within their conferences, but within divisions defined by geography in order to limit travel and exposure to the coronavirus.

The CIAC also recommends schools limit spectators, but leaves that decision up to individual schools. In the fall, when an abbreviated six-week season was held without state tournaments, all area schools limited the number of spectators at home games, especially at indoor events.

Time and the pandemic will tell just how far the winter season gets. For now, teams are just relieved to get the ball rolling.

“Honestly, anything we can get, I look at as a bonus,” said Maloney girls basketball coach John Vieira. “I wasn’t really expecting anything after what went down last spring and then in the last couple of months. If we can at least get the girls together, whether it’s two weeks or two months, it’s better than nothing.

“Shoot, I just miss just going to practice and joking around with them, never mind basketball,” Vieira added. “Hopefully, there’s no sudden changes as there were in the past.”

So long as the Board of Control gives it approval Thursday, all that could interrupt the winter season would be a turn for the worst in the COVID-19 picture as the state grapples with the second wave of the pandemic.

As expected, case numbers rose after the holiday gatherings of Thanksgiving and are expected to do so here in the first half of January after Christmas and New Year’s.

On Monday, the governor’s office reported 213,358 cases statewide, a rise of 7,364 since Friday, and 6,416 deaths, a rise of 92. The test positivity rate was 6.33 percent, a drop from the past few weeks.

Other numbers have been in circulation. The CIAC, after surveying its member schools, reported that only seven cases of COVID-19 among the fall season’s 28,842 student-athletes were ruled by local health departments to have been contracted in sports competition.

The CIAC cancelled what remained of last winter’s postseason when the full scope of the coronavirus exploded in mid-March. The CIAC also wound up cancelling all of the 2020 spring season. The organization has said the 2021 spring season will be its top priority for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.

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