SOUTHINGTON — Cassidy Chamberland, head coach of the Southington High School gymnastics team, wore a Nirvana t-shirt to practice Friday.
And that was apropos. Even if some of her Lady Knights have never heard of the early-90s grunge band from Seattle, they were in nirvana simply to be at American Gymnastics Training Center preparing for a season.
That season may wind up numbering no more than six or seven meets. Some may wind up being virtual, rather than in-person.
There will no state championships. There will be no way for the Blue Knights to defend the Class LL and State Open team titles they claimed a year ago.
But, barring a turn for the worse with the pandemic, there will be a season. For that alone, there is relief and gratitude in the Southington camp, where tryouts were staged throughout this first week of practice.
“I was thinking they were going to throw in the towel on the winter sports season; we were really excited when we got the go,” Chamberland said earlier this week of the CIAC’s decision to move forward with the winter campaign. “I’m already just ecstatic that we even got two practices in.
“I’m just taking it day to day and, hopefully, we get to our competition.”
That competition has been cleared to begin the week of February 8. A schedule is now being worked out with the six other gymnastics programs in the Central Connecticut Conference — Glastonbury, Conard, Hall, Farmington, RHAM and Wethersfield — and an NCCC school, Ellington, that is in the mix for this season only.
The scheduling has been complicated somewhat by the fact that all of the CCC programs compete at off-campus sites, most at private clubs — such as Southington at American Gymnastics on Meriden-Waterbury Road.
That means gymnastics teams are following not only the COVID-19 handed protocols required by the CIAC, but the ones enforced by their host clubs as well.
On the biggest rule change of the season — masks — some private clubs like American are more strict. Where the CIAC says masks don’t need to be worn during competition if they could come off or become a distraction and increase the risk of injury, American insists they be worn at all times.
So that’s the line the Lady Knights will toe.
“Other gyms, I know, are saying you can take it off while you’re going through your routine, but we’re following what American says,” Chamberland said. “American Gymnastics aligns pretty closely with the CIAC, so we just combine the two and do whatever we have to do to get in there and be safe while doing it.”
“Until we hear differently, they’re going to wear masks when they perform,” said Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser. “We need (American Gymnastics) to stay open, right? We’re going to do what we’re asked to do.”
Cleaning is anothe r part of the drill. The Blue Knights wipe down equipment after each routine, then clean again at the end of practice, including with the help of an ultra-violet light.
The masks and tasks put extra vigilance in the mix this season. Yet many of the girls have already adapted to the changes, either through their club gymnastic programs or in another sport they may have played in the fall.
“The girls are already used to all these protocols being put in place for them,” Chamberland noted. “It really hasn’t been too much of a transition. It just takes up a little extra time, which we can deal with.”
That seems to be the watchword of winter, regardless of sport. After seeing some of their classmates lose the 2020 winter postseason, the 2020 spring season, the 2020 football season and, most recently, the 2021 wrestling season, the athletes who are able to play this season are more than willing to adapt.
“That’s what I’ve heard from all the sports at school,” said Chamberland, who teaches physical education at Southington High. “The kids never complain about it and they never even break the rules. They just do what they have to do and they’re happy to be there.
“We don’t like it; we’d rather be back to normal, but we’re not complaining about it.”