CIAC delays start of winter season

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

The light at the end of COVID-19 tunnel won’t arrive in time to spare a normal winter sports season for the second year in a row.

The CIAC Board of Control voted Nov. 17 to postpone the start of the winter sports season until Jan. 19. Practices had been scheduled to begin Nov. 21, but the hefty spike in COVID-19 cases across Connecticut and the resulting increase in school districts moving to fully remote learning forced the postponement.

“The conversation with the board was really centered around the number of schools we’re seeing that are going to distance learning,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said during a virtual news conference.

Another factor in the decision, according to Woodland athletic director Chris Decker, was the upcoming holiday season. Public health experts have warned that holiday travel, the return of students from college and traditional gatherings will lead to more COVID-19 cases if unchecked.

“It didn’t come as any surprise,” Decker said. “It was expected from what we were hearing. A lot of superintendents were looking to have a break for the kids during the holidays, so it made sense that sports wouldn’t start until a lot of those districts came back to school.”

Many school districts that have opted to go fully remote until after the holidays pegged Jan. 19 as the return date because it’s about two weeks after people would return home from holiday travels.

The CIAC released results of a winter sports survey that was sent to all 186 member schools. Of the 100 respondents, 44% were in favor of continuing sports even while fully remote, while 41% were suspending all sports activities, and 14% would allow practices but no games.

For the next two months, only offseason conditioning programs will be allowed since this time period is not considered part of either the fall or winter season.

Even though there is a target date for the start of winter sports — Jan. 19 would be the start of practice, and 10 days of practice are required before games — Decker acknowledged the angst among coaches that this may have been the first step in completely pulling the cord on winter sports.

“All of the coaches are worried still that their particular sport is not going to run, whether it’s indoor track or basketball,” Decker said. “Everyone’s concerned that this is just the beginning, and it’s hard to tell them otherwise.”

Lungarini noted that the CIAC will discuss specifics of a winter sports plan over the coming weeks, including the potential necessity for basketball players and other athletes to wear masks during competition.

Decker said that despite the current situation of the pandemic, he remains hopeful for a winter season — even if it clashes with the proposed alternate football season that would theoretically begin in February.

“I have optimism,” Decker said. “I think (the CIAC) is going to try it’s hardest to have a basketball season and a tournament.”

The silver lining of the high school sports story thus far was that most schools substantially completed a fall season with relatively few virus-related hiccups. The CIAC said survey responses from 133 of its 186 schools indicated that only seven COVID-19 cases were traced back to high school sports.

“We’re very proud and happy that we were able to give that experience to those 30,000 kids this fall,” Lungarini said.

Athletic directors around the region, including Decker, were pleasantly surprised.

“If you look at Woodland, we were able to play a majority of our games,” Decker said. “If you had asked me at the beginning of the season, I thought we’d have a small chance to do that.”