CHESHIRE – In just over three weeks, winter sports will be played for the first time in 11 months.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference confirmed its winter season plan on Thursday afternoon, giving basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming a start date of Tuesday for practices, and Feb. 8 for competition. The previous winter season was cut short on March 10 last year when the coronavirus pandemic first began to sweep through Connecticut.
Nearly one year later, the CIAC believes it has a plan in place that will take all four greenlit sports through the end of the season, scheduled for March 28.
“Not only are we confident we can get it done, but the guidance of DPH shows confidence that we can get it done, and the flexibility we provide allows districts to move forward at their pace,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said. “We’ve shown through the fall with the data that we provided that we had adjustments to schedules and canceled events, but we were very successful in the fall…and we will be successful in the winter engaging students with the sports that we’re able to.”
One notable change from fall to winter sports is the addition of a waiver parents and student-athletes will sign prior to the season, acknowledging the risks of covid-19 and the need to wear a mask during competition, offering another reminder that while high school sports are on their way back to Connecticut, it will still be another unprecedented season, much like the fall.
“DPH recommended that parents and players be informed of risks and concerns of playing sports in a pandemic,” Lungarini said. “We are playing sports in a pandemic. We want our parents and student-athletes to be fully informed of what those risks are.”
As for the other winter sports such as wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheerleading, their seasons will be limited to non-contact skill work, having been deemed high-risk sports that are unable to be played this season.
Indoor track, which is listed as a moderate-risk sport by DPH but brings about crowding concerns due to multi-team meets in indoor venues, will be limited to practices until at least March, when the CIAC will attempt to organize outdoor meets with smaller amounts of teams involved.
“The number of people that gather for track is also a limitation,” Lungarini said. “We agree with the recommendation that having multi-team track meets is not conducive. We are going to allow practices and skill instruction to begin on Jan. 19…and we will reexamine that possibility of having dual meets or small groups in March for some outdoor meets, or if we can do some smaller groups in indoor facilities.”
As for the sports that have been given the go-ahead to start on Feb. 8, there will be no state champions for the second year in a row. After canceling the remainder of winter state tournaments last March when the covid-19 pandemic first began to spread throughout Connecticut, the CIAC elected to eliminate its state tournament experiences in 2021 to give member schools more scheduling flexibility during the season, deciding that giving student-athletes as many games as possible outweighs the importance of a state tournament.
“With different schools coming back at different times…it’s going to have a bit of a limiting factor for scheduling with those leagues,” Lungarini said. “We also have to continue to anticipate that there will be teams that are required to quarantine…by allowing teams to adjust and have flexibility…we do feel we’ll be able to maximize playing opportunities for kids, which we see as a priority right now.”
In the fall season, postseason experiences were limited to a maximum of two games for each team, and each conference split up its teams into regions to limit travel. The winter season will have a slighter sense of normalcy, as the CIAC will allow full conference tournaments with the potential of more games. Currently, under the winter sports plan released on Thursday, all sports that have been given the green light to begin their seasons are allowed a maximum of 12 regular season contests, with two per week and two weeks of three contests, and tournament experiences running from March 15 to March 28. For boys swimming, any meets with teams outside of their own league must be held virtually.
Masks will be worn by all participants once the season gets underway, with basketball instituting a one-minute mask break at the first stoppage of play at or after the four-minute mark of each period. In ice hockey, those breaks will be after the four-, eight- and 12-minute mark of each period. As for spectators, the CIAC is recommending that fans should not be allowed in attendance at contests or practices. During the fall season, girls volleyball (the lone indoor sport), saw limited spectators in most venues, while some schools, including Newington, did not allow fans.
The CIAC does not have a set threshold for a positivity rate in Connecticut that would shut down the winter season, but Lungarini said they will continue to monitor the state metrics, as well as the new covid strain that has begun to spread. But the CIAC is holding onto the optimism that the season will be able to conclude without significant incident.
“These decisions came about through consultation with a number of people,” Lungarini said. “We recognize the social, emotional and mental well-being of our kids is essential…sports is an important aspect of their lives.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com