Athletic directors cram to put together fall schedules

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Constructing high school sports schedules usually takes months. But with ever-changing directives from the state and the CIAC during this COVID-19 pandemic, local athletic directors had to reinvent and condense the schedules that will be played — hopefully — in a matter of weeks.

Schedules for the six fall sports still on the local docket — boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, girls swimming, and boys and girls cross country — were recently posted on the CIAC’s website after a few weeks of rapid adjustments.

Not only did the Naugatuck Valley League’s athletic directors have to figure out how to geographically chunk its league to align with the CIAC’s regionalized scheduling directive, but they also had to welcome in two area technical schools and sort out how to play the allowable limit of games in only a six-week span.

“It was a bit chaotic trying to figure out all the combinations and permutations (of schedules),” Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said. “Usually it takes four months to do what we’ve done in a few weeks.”

Everyone acknowledges that the ultra-condensed schedules are not ideal. Each team is only allowed to play the same four or five opponents within its geographically realigned division, which leaves out many highly competitive and longstanding rivalries. Naugatuck and Woodland, for example, will not meet in boys soccer or volleyball.

Cross country teams will only compete in four regular-season meets, while girls swimming squads will compete against each of its opponents twice. In soccer and volleyball, squads will square off against each other two or three times.

Most competitions will begin Oct. 1 or Oct. 2. The CIAC has said it plans some sort of postseason experience for the two weeks after the regular season ends Nov. 6, but it appears as though that postseason will be limited to the divisions that have been put in place. That means there may be division titles, but certainly no league or state championships.

Despite the shortcomings, though, at least there’s a plan in place to have legitimate school-sanctioned sports competition for the first time since March 9.

“Although they’re regionalized games, they’re games,” Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano said. “We’re going to get in as many games as we possibly can. We’re looking forward to have some type of normalized season. I know that there are no championships, but considering where the spring was and where football is (both canceled), we’re just looking forward to having some type of normalcy and getting into games.”

Of course, it’s all dependent on the status of COVID-19 in each school district and the state as a whole. As long as schools stay open in their current hybrid format, athletes can still play. School closures or moves to full distance learning will shutter the sports slate.

Under the noncontact and group-limited practices that have been allowed for the last several weeks, the chance of viral transmission has been low. Administrators will keep an eye on the data over the next week or two as full team practices were finally slated to start Sept. 21.

“(We’re) still maintaining the mitigation strategies,” Mariano said. “Hopefully the state doesn’t begin to see a rise in numbers and we can get games underway. I think the real test is going to be in the next 10 days or so (after) we go to full team practices. If numbers of positive cases don’t spike and we don’t see kids having signs and symptoms, then hopefully games will be a possibility. Hopefully we can get at least a few (games) in, and if things get shut down, we may have to go back to intrasquad things.”

Players are prepared to wear masks when they’re not actively competing (or in the case of volleyball, even while they’re playing) and coaches will do the same at all times.

Mariano and Decker agreed that their student-athletes have been responsible and resilient throughout the last few months of conditioning because they realize their actions can make the difference between playing and staying at home.

“The kids have been great,” Mariano said. “Even outside of athletics, every kid walks into the building with a mask and nobody complains. The kids are very self-aware about everything and are really doing their part. Kids want to play, so they’re willing to do those mitigation strategies so it doesn’t get canceled. Spring was canceled and they had the sour taste from that, and they don’t want that again.”

“It’s been very positive for the kids who are playing,” Decker added. “They’ve bought into the safety protocols and I think they’ve adjusted ridiculously well. We try to impress upon them that the season is in their hands. If we handle it and take care of business, we’ll be able to have a season. If we slip up, we may lose the season.”

DIVISIONS FOR LOCAL TEAMS

Naugatuck boys soccer: Holy Cross, St. Paul, Torrington, Watertown, Wolcott.

Naugatuck girls soccer: Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour, Woodland.

Naugatuck volleyball: Holy Cross, St. Paul, Torrington, Watertown, Wolcott.

Naugatuck girls swimming: Oxford, Seymour, Watertown, Woodland.

Naugatuck cross country: Derby, Oxford, Seymour, Woodland.

Woodland boys soccer: Ansonia, Derby, O’Brien Tech, Oxford, Seymour.

Woodland girls soccer: Ansonia, Derby, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour.

Woodland volleyball: Ansonia, O’Brien Tech, Oxford, Seymour.

Woodland girls swimming: Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour, Watertown.

Woodland cross country: Derby, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour