MERIDEN — On the day the NFL kicked off its 2020 season, area high school football teams were optimistic Thursday that they’ll eventually be able to kick off theirs, be it this fall or early next spring.
For good reason. Wednesday’s rally at the State Capitol to protest the shuttering of the Connecticut high school football season paid immediate dividends. Gov. Ned Lamont, not long after the last players left Hartford, called for the CIAC and state Department of Public Health, whose impasse led to the cancellation, to reconvene on Friday morning.
“That was promising,” Maloney head coach Kevin Frederick said Thursday. “When you get those people meeting again, hopefully a different result comes out.
“I think everyone’s hopeful right now,” added Frederick, who attended Wednesday’s rally with some of his players. “Today’s another day. We’ll go out to practice and be around each other and just hope we can play 11 on 11.”
Last Friday, the CIAC announced there would be no traditional tackle football in Connecticut this fall. The Department of Public Health was sticking to its stance that 11-on-11 was too high-risk to play this season and the CIAC didn’t want its member schools having to choose between playing and bucking the state.
The state health department recommended holding off on football until the spring or playing non-contact 7-on-7 this fall. The CIAC maintains the state’s low COVID-19 numbers make it safe to play 11-on-11 now.
That’s a case Gov. Lamont wants to hear the CIAC detail on Friday.
“We have an obligation to all of our students, faculty, staff, and administrators to keep them safe, and I expect that goal to be the focus of the discussion,” Lamont tweeted in announcing the CIAC-DPH meeting.
Connecticut is one of just two states nationally that has decided not to play tackle football either this fall or next spring. Vermont, playing 7-on-7 this fall, is the other.
Here’s what’s going on in the other 48 states:
■23 are already playing;■8 are due to kick off later this fall;■20 have pushed football to a late winter/early spring season.
The latter group includes New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.
New York made its decision on Wednesday, Maine on Thursday. Lamont has indicated he’d like Connecticut follow suit.
“It’s probably worth pausing now, keep going with the practices and the conditioning, and hopefully start up something in Febraury or March,” the governor said during his Tuesday press conference.
If Connecticut sets up a spring football season, it will be a reversal of field. The CIAC Football Committee voted in favor of a spring season on August 10, but the CIAC Board of Control rejected it two days later, arguing Connecticut’s COVID-19 numbers, so good now, won’t necessarily be better in the spring.
Area coaches will take a season no matter when it comes. They do, however, have their preferences. Frederick and his old Marist College teammate, Southington coach Mike Drury, are ready to roll right now.
So is Platt coach Jason Bruenn, who is concerned a spring season might wind up being shorter than the eight-game season proposed for the fall — six regular season contests plus two postseason rounds.
“If we can start immediately, I think now is the time,” Bruenn said. “Any more delays and we won’t have time. We have missed our opportunity back in early August.”
“I think we should play,” said Frederick. “Other people maybe disagree and think we should be more cautious, more safe, but at what point can we go back to living part of our lives? We’re still being cautious and safe, but I think it’s time to go.”
In Wallingford, where Sheehan and Lyman Hall weren’t cleared by the town to start conditioning until July 24 — 2½ weeks after the CIAC allowed small cohort sessions to begin on July 6 — there’s a more acute sense of time being tight for a fall football season.
At this point, it’s three weeks.
On Friday, all fall sports teams will finish up the second of three CIAC-mandated weeks of cohort conditioning and non-contact skills work. On September 18, the CIAC will review the state’s COVID-19 data. If it’s still good, full-team practices with contact will launch September 21, with games starting October 1.
That means football teams will have just two weeks of contact to prepare. Keep in mind, too, that cohort conditioning was halted for 12 days in August when the Department of Public Health first raised objections to the CIAC’s fall sports plan.
“I would like to play now, but it’s September 10 and I am nowhere near being ready,” remarked Lyman Hall coach Bill Weyrauch. “We aren’t even in helmets yet, but I’d like to play now. February could be a good month weather-wise, but who knows?”
Across town, Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi, wary of a second viral wave, is concerned about a fall season starting only to be shut down along with schools.
“I think the numbers are going to go up before they go back down,” Ferrazzi said. “Kids haven’t been in school for six months. Governor Lamont’s restrictions have kept big crowds down, for the most part. Now that schools are going back, you know things are going to happen. It’s almost inevitable.
“Look, if we could play in the fall — football’s a fall sport; obviously, we’re all there,” Ferrazzi added. “But I think in the big picture, if you did the spring, if we treated the rest of the fall similiar to the summer, it might be able to eliminate some of the imbalances in conditioning levels. I’ve got many players who are in great shape and I’ve got some who are not because of what they have done or not done in the time we were not allowed to be together.”
On Wednesday, Connecticut football players put their time to effective use. Wednesday’s rally was by and large organized by players. Most of the speakers were players, including Sheehan’s Jason Villano, Lyman Hall’s Christian Salaman and Southington’s Brady Lafferty.
Southington kept up the lobbying on Thursday, launching a series of video appeals from players tweeted directly to Lamont, the CIAC and Department of Public Health.
“The things that Southington football has taught me over the past three years are immeasurable, things that I’ll hold onto for life,” senior wide receiver Shane LaPorte said in his clip. “Every day I look forward to going out and practicing with my guys and look forward to Friday nights playing with the guys. But it’s not only that that we’re missing out on this year. It’s all the team dinners, even just being in the locker room with the guys and having that relationship with them and the coaching staff.
“Those are the moments that really make me emotional about missing my senior season and things that I’ll never get to do again with the group of kids I grew up with and the team that I’ve been watching since elementary school,” LaPorte concluded. “High school football means the world to me and I’m not ready to give it up.”
Coaches concede that when it comes to swaying decision-makers, it’s the players who probably have the most clout.
“When you get kids who can represent themselves professionally and in a mature way, it does carry a lot of weight,” Ferrazzi said.
He paused, chuckled. With 15 seasons under his belt, Ferrazzi is the area’s longest-tenured football coach.
“A lot of times, what coaches say in situations like this doesn’t carry any weight. Obviously, if it did, we might not be in this situation. I’m glad the kids feel so passionately for themselves and are advocating for themselves, and they’re doing it the right way.”