By Mark Jaffee, Republican-American
After weeks and even months of speculation, the state high school football season this fall is officially canceled.
On Sept. 16, the CIAC Board of Control reaffirmed its Sept. 3 decision to cancel full contact, 11-on-11 football for the 2020 fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was made in alignment with the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s recommendation that football is a high-risk sport.
The board did, however, agree it would consider allowing competition at a later time for a sport that cannot hold its regularly scheduled season, such as football, provided it does not negatively impact spring sports.
Officials from the CIAC, the governor’s office and the state Department of Public Health met at the state Capitol for nearly three hours Sept. 11 — two days after a rally to save the season — to discuss options to play in the fall.
Among the strategies presented by the CIAC were players would wear cloth face masks under the lower part of the helmet, and there would be a maximum of 10 coaches and 45 players on the sideline.
Last week, acting DPH commissioner Deirdre S. Gifford advised the CIAC in a letter that state health officials cannot definitively say the proposed precautions are safe or effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Ned Lamont recommended that football be rescheduled for the spring and the decision whether to play then be left up to local school officials individually.
The CIAC planned to recommend low and moderate-risk football activities to keep players engaged.
“CIAC made every effort to weigh all factors in this decision, including the passionate voices of students, parents and school personnel, and ultimately made the determination to align its decision with the recommendations of the governor’s office and DPH to not hold high-risk sports at this time,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said. “In conversation with other state associations across the country, it was clear that a key factor in playing interscholastic football was alignment with the opinion of their state’s governor and state health agency.”
Now players and coaches will look toward hopefully playing in the spring, a recommendation that was originally made by the CIAC Football Committee more than a month ago, but had been denied by the Board of Control.
“We will meet with the kids and continue to condition them because they want to be there,” Woodland coach Chris Moffo said. “They’ve been really resilient through this whole thing, all of the ups and downs, and yeses and nos. They’re been working hard and running and doing what they are supposed to do and doing it very well. Now we will have to adjust and go from there.”
Moffo now wonders how the potential shift affects his players who play basketball in the winter and are on the track and field and baseball teams in the spring. Those seasons are expected to be reduced or modified.
“That will be an issue going into spring sports,” Moffo noted.
Naugatuck interim coach Ollie Gray said he remained hopeful for a fall season after two protests took place this month to reverse the decision.
“I thought we had a very strong showing (at the protests) and they voiced their opinions,” Gray said. “This hurts, this stings.”
Now Gray isn’t sure if a spring season will be possible.
“I’ve heard both ways and think it will be tough to schedule everything,” Gray said. “I tell the kids that football is a microcosm of life and that you face adversity. Every season we have new beginnings, new life, high hopes and expectations. For them to not get that opportunity, that is devastating to the seniors. I’m heartbroken for them.”
Gray said is he working on helping the kids put together past video tapes for college recruiters and is planning to hold a team banquet.
Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano said he felt bad that football players got strung along with the hope that something would come to fruition.
“I’m happy in some sense that we were given a final answer and now we can figure out our next steps, but it sucks,” he said. “Those kids are devastated and those seniors didn’t get a chance to leave their legacy.
“Am I hopeful that something can come in late winter or spring? I’m not sure. I hope we get something out of it. We’re going to wait on the alternatives that the CIAC comes up with, and then we’ll meet and decide if any of those alternatives will work for us.”
Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said the players are disappointed and frustrated with the decision.
“There are a lot of frustrated student-athletes that are not really understanding the decision and bewildered at the moment,” he said.
Kyle Brennan contributed to this report.