CIAC defers decision on spring sports season


By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak returns a shot during the Naugatuck Valley League doubles tournament final in May 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Behuniak and her partner, Hailey Russell, won the championship. –FILE PHOTO

They understand, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

In a typical year, high school seniors would spend the last week of March practicing with their spring sports teams, crunching for Advanced Placement exams, and getting fitted for proms.

Everyone — including the soon-to-be-graduates — know by now that this is not a typical year. While the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference this week deferred making any decision on the fate of the spring season in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, local seniors are grappling with the uncertainty of their futures.

“I understand the precautions that are necessary to keep everyone safe and keep everyone healthy, but it’s just very frustrating because there’s a chance that I’m missing out on a lot of the activities that I’ve waited four years for,” said Woodland’s Nick DeLucia, who saw his basketball season cut short and worries about his final baseball season, his senior prom and his graduation.

“It’s just hard to see all of these things that I’ve waited for be taken away by something that is completely out of my or any person’s control. I only have a few months left with all these people who I grew up with, and this pandemic is really affecting that. It’s just really frustrating.”

With schools closed indefinitely, shutdowns in place, and the pandemic not expected to peak in the United States for some indeterminate period — nobody’s sure whether it’ll be weeks or months — the CIAC went with a wait-and-see approach.

It gave these athletes at least a glimmer of hope — even if it’s a false one — that something can be salvaged from their senior years.

“I’m very relieved that the CIAC decided that canceling spring sports would be premature,” said Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak, who was expecting the chance to defend her Naugatuck Valley League doubles tennis title with Hailey Russell.

“It would be heartbreaking for all student-athletes if they are canceled, but it would be exceptionally devastating for seniors. However, I completely understand that the safety of the student-athletes and members of our community are top priority. Despite all the uncertainty, I’m hopeful that the CIAC would consider other alternatives for student-athletes to compete in at least some of the spring season should the guidelines allow.”

Her partner agreed.

“It would be awesome for Brielle and I get to play our final season of tennis and possibly repeat what we did last year,” Russell said. “If we don’t get to play, although I will be heartbroken, I’m grateful for all of the memories I have made throughout these past four years. I’m relieved that the season is not completely canceled yet and am holding onto hope that my team and I will be able to step onto the tennis court before graduation. However once again, everyone’s safety and health are much more important.”

CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini indicated that all ideas are on the table, from shortening the regular season to extending state tournaments past the school year — perhaps even into July. There also remains the distinct possibility that the seasons never happen, especially if schools cannot reopen. In many ways, the decision may be out of the CIAC’s hands.

“We want students to be hopeful and we want them to know that we are working on our end to deliver (a spring sports season) in any way possible that we can,” Lungarini said.

Naugatuck softball coach Kevin Wesche, who sits on some of the high school softball committees as well as the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, is hopeful that spring sports can begin because there is not as much direct contact between athletes as in winter sports such as basketball and ice hockey. He also sees a way to get close to an entire season in a shortened window.

“We can have multiple meets or games like a summer ball tournament with four or five games in a weekend or a couple during the week,” Wesche said. “We could probably get in a full 16 to 20 game season in a matter of four weeks then have two weeks for states.”

In track and field circles, Woodland boys and girls track and field coach Jeff Lownds, in his 19th season, said he is requesting his athletes use proper caution and not do anything strenuous or in groups while they are out of school.

“I want them all to be healthy; they can go for a run on their own,” Lownds said. “I don’t have any problem with that. (But) they need to keep a relative balance to do their class work and with exercise. They need to take a walk on a beautiful day and do those things.”

“Let’s be prudent and not overreact, and at the same time, if there is a chance for limited competition, it would be good for all,” Lownds added.

DeLucia and senior teammate Jason Claiborn said they’ve individually continued their preparations for the baseball season despite all gyms being forced to close.

“I know what the most likely scenario is, but I’m holding onto hope as long as I can,” Claiborn said. “I’m just praying that they can figure something out — a smaller season, or even a season with no fans is much better than no season at all. I know the CIAC knows that sports mean a lot, but they really have to take into consideration that sports are many kids’ lives — including mine.”

Nobody’s sure when life will return to normal — whatever the new normal will be, at least — but DeLucia encourages everyone to do his or her part by practicing social distancing and following established guidelines.

“A lot of people are getting extremely negatively affected by this whole thing, and I just hope that this will all go away soon so we can return to normal life,” DeLucia said. “If we all work together for just a few weeks, this will all be over soon — not even just for sports, but for daily life.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.