MERIDEN — The decree has been handed down. Next come the details.
Area YMCAs expect to hear Monday which programs they can and cannot continue to offer in the wake of Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement Thursday that youth and recreational sports must cease being played in Connecticut until at least Jan. 19 due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
The prohibition goes into effect on Monday. In the meantime, on Friday, people were asking what activities would fall under the ban.
“There are so many facets of this that we just don’t have clear answers on right now and, believe me, our phone is blowing up, too, on our end,” said John Benigni, CEO of the Meriden-New Britain-Berlin YMCA, which offers everything from basic lessons to travelling teams. “We’re waiting for guidance, more detailed guidance, from the state. When we get that, we’ll notify all of our participants of where we stand.”
“The governor made the announcement and there were supposed to be guidelines that followed. Those haven’t been posted yet,” remarked Jay Jaronko, Southington Branch Executive Director at the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA. “There are a lot of things that fall under the youth sports umbrella. Until we know for sure, we don’t know how we are effected.”
Local youth sports organizations and parks departments, meanwhile, already know.
Hockey is on halt until January 19 for the Wallingford Hawks. The nation’s second-oldest youth hockey organization has 260 kids playing this season under the protocols handed down by the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Those included playing while wearing masks.
Hockey, though, had been on something of a hot seat since a few COVID-19 outbreaks in the summer were traced to hockey tournaments that featured teams from multiple states.
Lamont handed down the mask requirement for hockey and basketball via executive order on Nov. 5 and, in conjuction with other governors in the region, prohibited multi-state hockey events.
“I think there was foreshadowing of this coming down the pipe, but it came down abruptly,” Wallingford Hawks president David Fritz said Friday. “Everybody was adhering to (the governor’s) ordinance about face masks on the ice and in the arena, and limiting the amount of people in the rink. It’s an abrupt pause to the season.
“We’re disappointed,” Fritz added. “This time of year the sun sets a little earlier and sunlight is limited. There’s going to be an amount of depression because there’s nothing for the kids to look forward to.”
At area parks departments, seasons have been paused in sports like basketball and wrestling.
In Meriden, the list includes two youth recreation basketball leagues, Meriden Silver Fins swimming and Meriden Youth Wrestling.
“You can understand why this decision was made and what they had to do,” said Chris Bourdon, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation. “But anytime you take away recreation from youth — we understand it and totally get it — but we feel sad about it.”
Southington Director of Recreation David Lapreay said his town’s recreational youth basketball league had been called off six weeks ago because Southington schools couldn’t be used for practices and games. The same scenario played out in Cheshire, according to John Gawlak, that’s town’s Parks and Recreation Director.
Thursday’s announcement by Lamont prompted Southington to cancel its travel basketball programs until January 19.
“Everything is put off until January 19,” Lapreay said. “Some other leagues do some offseason conditioning and those teams cannot meet until Jan. 19. Other programs we are doing are all being tweaked and are virtual. Hopefully, things will get better in the new year.”
Then there’s swimming. Most area youth programs in that sport operate under the aegis of the YMCA. Their programs range from lessons to competitive teams, some of whom, most notably the Cheshire Y/Sea Dogs, compete in national events staged by USA Swimming.
In-person USA Swimming events have already been cancelled for the rest of the 2020-21. A regional YMCA swim league is now on hold until January 19.
The CIAC high school girls swim season was recently completed. Most teams swam virtual meets.
“I think it is unfortunate,” Sean Farrell, head coach of the Cheshire Y/Sea Dogs program, said of Thursday’s announcement. “There may be some strong arguments for that (decision) in certain areas, but our protocols have been sound. The chances of a swimmer infecting another is really low.
“With masks and social distancing, we’ve done a great job of lowering the risk,” Farrell continued. “I think this (ruling) has painted everyone with the same brush.”
Lamont’s call on youth and recreational sports came two days after the CIAC Board of Control, citing rising COVID-19 numbers and more schools falling back to distance learning, voted to delay the start of the 2020-21 high school winter season until January 19.
The January 19 date isn’t arbitrary. It falls two weeks after January 4, which is when schools are due to return from Christmas break. The two weeks would allow for the standard quarantine period.
Lamont, in making his announcement, said the suspension of youth and recreational sports was being done in an effort to keep schools open as long as possible. The governor noted that 17 school closings in the state and the quarantining of 235 teachers had been contact traced to coronavirus outbreaks among sports teams.
The governor reported that 29 total outbreaks had been linked to sports teams.
“How can we try and limit the spread due to sports teams? Here, we’re going to be strict,” Lamont said. “I salute the (CIAC) saying we’re going to postpone all high school winter sports, not starting to January 19th. I know how tough that is to families, I know what you’re looking forward to, but we’ve just seen too many infections in and around those winter sports.”
With 2,088 new cases reported Friday, Connecticut’s COVID-19 number eclipsed the 100,000 mark (101,469). There have been 4,828 deaths in the state linked to the virus.
On the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Alert Map, 145 of Connecticut’s 169 towns are now in “red” zone. That red zone, the highest of the four colored zones on the map, signifies an average daily case rate over the last two weeks of greater than 15 people per 100,000.
Area parks and recreation officials, YMCA directors and high school coaches say they understand the calculus of those numbers. They say they understand why the decisions of this week were made. But they also note there is a cost.
“Kids need sports for their mental well being,” said Fritz. “If they are going to school through Zoom, there’s no physical interaction with others, other than a computer screen. That doesn’t help their mental health well being.”
“That’s the key out of all of this: Still promoting our youth development and healthy lifestyle with the kids. They’re getting shaken around,” echoed Sean Doherty, Executive Director of the Wallingford Family YMCA. “Just from a mental health standpoint, we want to make sure we continue to offer some kind of extracurricular activity, whatever that might be.”
Greg Lederer contributed to this story